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SPRI Review 1998: Introduction


Director: Prof K S Richards

When I became Director of the Institute in December of 1997 I took over a Research Institute with a building site attached. In fact, I almost needed to wear a hard hat and overalls to be able to do any work. Wherever I chose to sit for a meeting, it seemed that a power drill immediately started on the other side of the wall, and when I leapt to my feet, the need for another visit to the dry cleaners was immediately evident! Happily those days are gone. The building site has been transformed into the spectacular new building extension which houses the Shackleton Memorial Library; a 1990s building of remarkably skilful design which unifies the 1930s and the 1960s into a whole which decidedly transcends the sum of its parts.The new building was opened on the 20 November 1998 by The Hon Alexandra Shackleton, grand-daughter of Sir Ernest and daughter of Lord Edward Shackleton. The celebrations were justifiably extended. They included a lunch before the ceremony, at which all those who contributed to the success of the venture were gathered, and John Heap was able to thank John Payne for the enormous contribution he has made to the evolution of the Institute's place in the University. The Institute itself was able to squeeze in a marginally less formal (!) private party to thank John (Heap) and Joe Wubbold, and to give them the statutory SPRI tee shirt. This was then followed by a day of public celebration on the 21st November attended by approximately 400 people, who were shown the original version of Hurley's film South, with Bob Headland's inimitable commentary, and who listened to a talk given by John. He described how the new Library came into being, and how the funds for the building were raised. Sadly, Tom Manning, a major donor to the Shackleton Memorial Fund, died just a few days before the opening, and it was a great regret that he wasnít able to see the completion of the project to which he had contributed so generously. The whole event, and the permanent structure which it commemorated, was a great testimony to John Heap's Directorship, and it was very fitting that he was able to stay on to see completion of the work that he started. John actually retired from his "extension" post as Executive Director on the 31 September, and headed off to the States for a long holiday, before returning for the official opening of the Memorial Library, for which building project he had worked so tirelessly in fund- raising.At the end of September we also said goodbye to Captain Joe Wubbold and his wife Mary, who returned to the USA after three years in Cambridge. Our debt to Joe is immense. He worked voluntarily ëfor love of the Instituteí to oversee the building work, and to bring it to a successful and timely conclusion. Without his dedication I am sure I would not have been able to look out of my window on the appointed date to see the now familiar rotunda which makes the Shackleton Memorial Library such a magnificent building. Perhaps the most apposite moment in the building work came when the new basement area (which is below the water table) flooded and the Institute began to "float". All of the ship-building references became relevant; and with all hands to the pumps, the problem was duly solved and the building was saved.Since all of these events, things have settled down, somewhat. Inevitably the normal work of the Institute was disrupted while the Memorial Library was built, and this Report is actually intended to cover the academic year leading up to the completion of the work. If the building itself is a testimony to John, the rest of the Report is certainly one to the fortitude of my colleagues, showing as it does that they managed to sustain their research productivity very successfully in spite of the dust in their PCs, the chaos in the basement, and the phantom driller.There is, of course, still a lot to be done. The basement needs to be converted into a more useful location for research work and for the storage of the sophisticated equipment required for modern environmental research in the polar regions. The M.Phil. needs to be re-vitalised after a couple of years of low numbers, largely a result of the building work and a deliberate policy of warning applicants of the difficulties they might face. There is further work to be done in developing and consolidating research work, and teaching, within the Institute and with collaborators in other Departments in the University, in the British Antarctic Survey and elsewhere in the U.K. and overseas. The new infrastructure we have created - not only physically in the building, but also in the institutions with which we interact, such as the new Committee of Management and Advisory Committee - will help to ensure that the Institute develops to meet the polar research and educational challenges (and I apologise for the cliché) of the new millennium.