The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) has paid tribute to the late Professor Emeritus Huw Phillips – a Wits stalwart known for his teaching, research and leadership in mining engineering the world over.
“An integral part of the Wits community, Professor Phillips left an indelible mark in his field, and a legacy which will undoubtedly influence future generations of scholars,” the university said after learning of his death on January 26.
Phillips served for over 27 years as a full professor in the School of Mining Engineering at Wits, during which time he supervised more than 20 PhD and over 40 Master's students.
He served as the Head of Mining Engineering from 1986 for a period spanning over 25 years.
He also served as the Chair of Mining Engineering until his retirement in 2012.
He was appointed as an Emeritus Professor in 2013 and continued to supervise postgraduate students and to serve the university in various roles.
In 2013, he was named the winner of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy’s Brigadier Stokes Memorial Award. He was also honoured by the Institute of Mine Surveyors of South Africa, the Mine Ventilation Society of South Africa and the International Society of Mining Professors.
A researcher in mine safety and health, Phillips documented a career’s worth of mining research achievements, which earned him a Doctor of Engineering degree from Wits in 2019.
His research at Wits spanned five key areas – mechanised mining systems; spontaneous combustion; mine ventilation in deep-level gold mines – including software tools for designing cooling strategies; monitoring and controlling respirable dust in coal mines; and preventing methane ignitions and coal dust explosions.
Born in Wales, Phillips studied electrical engineering at the University of Bristol and took his first job with the National Coal Board in the UK. His interest in mining led him to complete an MSc and PhD in mining engineering at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
His work and research in the coal sector continued as he relocated to the University of New South Wales, in Australia, in 1977, where he served for eight years.
After spending his sabbatical leave in South Africa in 1981 with the Chamber of Mines Research Organisation, he returned to South Africa in 1985 as the Chamber of Mines Professor of Mining Engineering at Wits. During his time as Head of Department and subsequently Head of School, Wits noted, he considerably increased undergraduate and postgraduate enrolments, and secured industry funding for research.
“Professor Phillips dedicated much of his life to teaching, research, and making mines safer for thousands of miners. His work will live on for decades to come, and serves as an inspiration for future scholars in mining engineering,” Wits said.
It has also extended its sympathy to the family, friends, colleagues, students and industry partners who knew Phillips well.