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Dr Alan Smith, 1937 - 2017

Dr Alan Smith, Emeritus Reader in Geology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of St John’s College, has died at the age of 80.

Dr Smith, who became a Fellow at St John’s in 1970 and was formerly College Lecturer in Geological Sciences, died on 13 August 2017. He had been resting at home following treatment for cancer at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.  

Dr Smith was born in Hertfordshire in 1937 and was educated at Watford Grammar School. He first came up to St John’s in 1955 to study Natural Sciences as an undergraduate. After finishing his degree in 1958, he went on to obtain a PhD from Princeton University in 1963.

Dr Smith held numerous College positions over the course of his Fellowship at St John’s, including Director of Studies in Geology and in Natural Sciences.

During a distinguished academic career, Dr Smith’s research interests focused on stratigraphy and global tectonics. He was one of the earliest pioneers of computing in the field of geology and worked on the development of software to make plausible reconstructions of the continents as far back in time as possible. His research provided evidence to support the theory of “continental drift” and allowed the paleoclimate and palaeoceanography of past periods to be modelled more accurately.

Dr Smith’s work won him various distinctions.  In 2007 he won the Distinguished Career Award from the International Section of the Geological Society of America and served as president of this branch of the society from 2011-2012. In 2004 he received the Medal for Field Studies from Aristotle University, Thessalonika, Greece, and in 2008 he was awarded the Lyell Medal by the Geological Society of London an award recognising the significant contribution to science made by his substantial body of research.