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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Honoured for decades of service to students and researchers – Barry Marsh and Dave Spanner

Published: 13 August 2014

Two long-serving members of staff at Ocean and Earth Science are retiring after many years of supporting students and researchers at both at the Highfield Campus and the Waterftont Campus at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton.

Between them, photographer Barry Marsh and technician Dave Spanner have notched up 87 years at the University of Southampton. While they say researchers and students are as passionate about scientific discovery as ever, both have seen considerable changes in systems and technologies as the advent of powerful computers and the arrival of the Internet revolutionised the world of research and their work.

Dave joined straight from school at the age of 16, exchanging his paper round for life in the laboratories and combined working in the labs with studying part-time at local colleges to develop his scientific, electronic and computing skills. Barry had worked in commercial photography before arriving at the University then got involved in research, helping academics and postgraduate students prepare their papers for publication.

“Dave and Barry have worked for nine different Heads of Department, under a range of different University structures and have seen their jobs evolve and expand as Ocean and Earth Science has grown’ says Professor Rachel Mills, the newest Head of Ocean and Earth Science. “We thank them both for their huge contribution and wish them well as they move to the next stage of their lives.”

Following retirement, both Barry and Dave have plans. Once Dave has caught up with some essential DIY in the home and garden, he will be heading for the open road on his Triumph Trident 900 motorbike as well as continuing his hobbies of electronics and genealogy. Barry will be spending more time in creative pursuits including playing his melodeon button accordion and attending folk music festivals in the UK and Europe.

Dave Spanner & Prof Rachel Mills


Technician Dave Spanner

Whether they know it or not, generations of geology students have reason to thank Dave. Without his hard work preparing essential materials, it would have been impossible for them to learn the practical side of their subjects. “Although I didn’t excel in science at school I liked reading about geology, chemistry and physics in library books and I’m sure that stood me in good stead for my later career,” he says. He joined Geology, then in building 44 on the Highfield Campus, on 23 June 1969 and enjoyed working in the small close-knit community of academics, researchers and students, who took their tea and coffee breaks around one big table. He remembers his first monthly pay slip was for £31 8s 4d.

Dave started off making microscope slides of thin slices of rock and recalls how students often tried to put them in upside down, breaking the delicate glass in the process. He also worked in Micropalaeontology, dissolving rocks in acid to extract tiny fossils then Geophysics where he encountered his first ‘Minicomputer’, long before microprocessors and PCs were invented. Computerisation was to change much of his work, his later duties included working in the Palaeoceangraphic lab and with the electron microscope.

There was plenty of humour in these early days. “I remember one of the undergraduates turning up for a field course, not with a hammer, lens and notebook but with a full set of golf clubs,” says Dave. “There was also the time when the Chief Technician almost set himself on fire by putting his smouldering pipe in his jacket pocket.”

Barry Marsh & Prof Rachel Mills


Photographer Barry Marsh

The Internet and its technologies have transformed photography. During Barry’s time at Southampton, he started with glass plates and ended with digital imagery. “Some people think all photographers are the same and everyone spends their weekends doing weddings but that’s not so. I would describe my work as scientific photography to illustrate scientific research, although I have been asked to take pictures at graduations and other events.” In the years before computers, University cartographers were commissioned to draw detailed maps and Barry was asked to photograph them along with the specimens collected on site to accompany formal academic papers submitted for publication.

He describes the highlights of his 43 years at Southampton, firstly in electronics then geology, as working with very interesting people doing fascinating science. “My job has been different every day and not everyone can say that. I only went on two field trips, one was to Dorset in the rain, the second to Tenerife was much better and my picture of students working on a rock face in the sunshine with Mount Teide in the background is still on the wall at the National Oceanography Centre Southampton today.”



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