Antarctic-trekking University of Leicester professor gets Polar Medal

An Antarctic-trekking academic has been awarded the Polar Medal.

Prof. John Smellie, from the University of Leicester, was given the accolade by King Charles III.

It is the second time he has received the medal, having been awarded one by Queen Elizabeth II in 1986.

The professor, who spent most of his career working as a senior volcanologist for the British Antarctic Survey, said he had been “quite shocked” to receive the honor twice.

The Polar Medal is awarded to people for outstanding achievement and service to the UK in the field of polar research.

Originally called the Arctic Medal, it has existed for 150 years.

There have been more than 1,000 recipients but fewer than two dozen have had it conferred twice.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes is one of the famous recipients of the medal

Previous recipients of the medal include Sir Ernest Shackleton, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

Prof. Smellie is an honorary professor of volcanology in the school of geography, geology and the environment at the university.

The university said he had visited and worked on more volcanoes in Antarctica than any other person. As a result, he has sometimes been nicknamed Mr. Antarctic Volcano.

Prof. Smellie first visited Antarctica as a 21-year-old and has carried out 27 expeditions to Antarctica, most recently in late 2022.

‘Fantastic honor’

Prof Smellie said: “I was quite shocked when I heard the news and had to read it twice before it fully sank in. It was a wonderful way to end the year.

“My time in Antarctica in October and November had been quite challenging, with lower temperatures than anticipated, so the news made up for the difficult working conditions.

“But the award is not just about me. I have spent a long career away from home for months on end during most years, including very many Christmases and new years.

“So it also reflects the wonderful support given to me by my wife and two daughters.”

Prof Stewart Fishwick, head of the school of geography, geology and the environment, said: “It’s a fantastic honor for John to have received this recognition for a second occasion, and we really appreciate his contribution to the school through his research activities as an honorary professor.”

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