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SPRI Review 2000: SPRI Review 2000

SPRI Review 2000

Director's Introduction

The post-construction consolidation referred to in last year's SPRI Review has continued during the beginning of the new millennium in a year when the Institute has struggled to ensure that its antiquated computing infrastructure survived the over-hyped effects of the eponymous 'bug' (more of that anon)!

But first, key matters to report relate to changes in the staff structure. In the summer of 2000, we gained Dr Michael Bravo and Professor Liz Morris. Dr Bravo became the second person to be appointed under the new arrangements in which a post is held on the establishment of a large teaching department in the University (and, as in the case of Neil Arnold, this is the Department of Geography), while the post-holder has a physical base and develops research activity in the Institute. He is also the second social scientist to be appointed (although he has a background in telecommunications engineering that first took him to the 'North'). He has had a long association with the Institute, and experience in the North American Arctic that complements that of Dr Piers Vitebsky in the Russian Arctic. Bravo's interests are in development, indigenous knowledge, and the relationship between contemporary scientific agendas in the polar regions and development processes. I know, having attended the annual meeting of the Arctic Research Consortium of the US in May, how central an issue this is, with negotiation taking place with indigenous peoples over the research questions of greatest concern to them.

Professor Morris is a senior British Antarctic Survey scientist who has been seconded to the Institute to act in providing liaison amongst the Institute, the University, the wider University-based polar research community, and BAS; to develop a co-ordinating role in University-based Arctic research; and to develop her own research group in the Institute with bipolar interests in snow and ice physics. This is the major strengthening of the link between the Institute and BAS that I mentioned at the end of last year's 'Introduction.' Both Dr Bravo and Professor Morris have provided reports on their plans for this year's SPRI Review, and I hope that they will add to these for years to come.

A second issue that I mentioned last year was that the MPhil was being revised in the hope that it would be re-launched at the beginning of the 2000-2001 academic year. This has indeed happened, with there being six students in the first cohort of the 'new millennial' MPhil. This has been modelled on, and integrated with, other MPhil degrees in the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Geography. It has a series of strands that run through a core course in the Michaelmas Term and optional courses in the Lent Term. The first term provides a basic grounding for more specialist work in the options, and this can then lead into the dissertation, which is completed in the Easter Term. Elements of the core, and some of the options, are shared with the MPhils in Environment and Development, in GIS and Remote Sensing, and in Quaternary Science. This has taken a considerable amount of planning and organisation, especially in this its first year, and Dr Bravo and Dr Neil Arnold are to be congratulated on their achievement. The course also has a significant research training concern, as we hope that it will increasingly act as a proving ground for those students who want eventually to develop their research interests in both environmental and social scientific studies of polar regions.

Finally, the computing infrastructure. Well, sadly, no sooner had we finished our building work but the Department of Chemistry began its own even more radical transformation. The result has been six months almost as noisy with drills and other machinery as when the Shackleton Library was being built, and almost more stressful, given the unnerving appearance of a large adjacent building the basement excavation of which left the entire edifice seemingly supported on nothing but a few slender columns. More significantly, this delayed the first stages of the restoration of up-to-date computing in the Institute, since part of the process has involved routing cables through this building site. At the time of writing, this problem has been resolved, but as it is no longer 2000, reporting this will have to await the next SPRI Review.