Skip to main content
Image of Professor Julian Dowdeswell riding a skidoo and pulling a trailer of luggage across a snowy landscape
Professor Julian Dowdeswell out in the field. Credit: Scott Polar Research Institute

Polar Institute celebrates centenary

Congratulations to the Scott Polar Resarch Institute (SPRI) as it celebrates its centenary. Led by Director Professor Julian Dowdeswell (1977), a Jesus College alumnus and Fellow, the SPRI is the oldest dedicated polar research institute in the world, and remains at the forefront of polar research, education and heritage.  

Founded in 1920 as the national memorial to Captain Scott and his ill-fated polar party, the Institute is an international centre for polar explorers, scholars and enthusiasts. Carrying out rigorous scientific enquiry into the nature of climate change, while also protecting and promoting our historic polar heritage, the SPRI remains internationally-renowned.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott's last words: "For God's sake look after our people", created a huge public outpouring of grief. It was this, coupled with Scott’s fundamental belief in the importance of science, which lead to the Institute's establishment. First conceived by Frank Debenham, the geologist on Scott’s British Antarctic Expedition 1910-13 (Terra Nova), his plans secured a grant of £6,000 from the trustees of the Scott Memorial Fund. In November of 1920, the Institute was formally established by the University of Cambridge Senate.

Debenham's vision for the SPRI was that as a centre of study and part of the University of Cambridge, it would bring together polar researchers and resources for the improvement of polar expeditions and scientific investigation. As a building, it would stand as a national memorial to Captain Scott and the men who died with him in the Antarctic.

"It is a privilege to be Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute during its centenary year ... I first went to Iceland in 1979 when a Geography undergraduate at Jesus, and have been fascinated by the icy world ever since. The wide-ranging research and heritage activities of the Scott Polar Research Institute and its Polar Museum are, I hope, a suitable legacy to Captain Scott and his four companions who died on their return journey from the South Pole just over a century ago." 

From its beginnings in rooms above the Sedgwick Museum, the Institute moved to its permanent home on Lensfield Road in 1934 and became a base for a number of highly important scientific expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic. During World War II it served the Government as a centre for research into cold weather warfare, clothing and equipment. In the aftermath of the War, it became the international centre for historical, scientific and social research we know today. 

In 2020 the Institute includes the Polar Museum - welcoming nearly 50,000 visitors a year - the Thomas H. Manning Polar Archives, a library and picture library, laboratories, and a lecture theatre. The research carried out at the Institute is vital to understanding our changing planet and planning for our global future.

Marking the centenary, Professor Julian Dowdeswell said: "It is a privilege to be Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute during its centenary year. What I enjoy most about the Institute is its variety - from my own research on the changes taking place to Arctic and Antarctic glaciers and ice sheets, to our splendid collections of historic polar photographs and beautiful Inuit sculptures. I first went to Iceland in 1979 when a Geography undergraduate at Jesus, and have been fascinated by the icy world ever since. The wide-ranging research and heritage activities of the Scott Polar Research Institute and its Polar Museum are, I hope, a suitable legacy to Captain Scott and his four companions who died on their return journey from the South Pole just over a century ago."

The SPRI is asking anyone with memories of the Institute to share them on social media using the hashtag #SPRI100. Do visit the Centenary pages on the Institute's website and a new online version of the Centenary exhibition 'A Century of Polar Research'.

Facebook

Enable social cookies to see this Facebook feed.

Twitter

Enable social cookies to see this Twitter feed.