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Frozen Planet – Guest blog

I am a 28 year old British doctor, employed at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, UK. I used to work at Lerwick Health Care Centre as a medical student some years ago and love Shetland.

I recently applied and was successful for a job to work as a Research MD to conduct Human Spaceflight research for the European Space Agency, in Antarctica.  The research is aimed towards a future manned mission to Mars.

I am currently living at Concordia Station- in the most extreme environment on the continent and in the world- where temperatures drop to minus 80 degrees Celcius, some of the coldest ever experienced on Earth, and in May we will commence a period of 4 months of 24 hour darkness.   Adding to that, we are at 3800 metres altitude, breathing only one third the amount of Oxygen that is available in Lerwick, at sea level.

Having been left at the beginning of February, 13 of us will be living in isolation until November – where there is no chance of escape or evacuation even in the case of a surgical emergency – we are completely self-sufficient.  We are more isolated than the International Space Station.  We may as well be living on another planet.

Whilst living in Lerwick, I visited the Shetland Museum, where I came across the story that Fair Isle Wool that had been worn by Sir Ernest Shackleton in Antarctica around 100 years ago.  Before I left for Antarctica, I contacted Jamieson & Smith Shetland Wool Brokers and was delighted to have been gifted two sweaters, a double lined hat, neckwarmers and mittens made for me to take with me to Antarctica.

I am exceedingly grateful to Jamieson & Smith knitter, Sandra, who made me these items.  They are very warm and it is reassuring to know that when you go out to conduct science research in the world’s most extreme and isolated environment, that you are protected by a part of Shetland, as Shackleton once was.

You can find out more about the research and my experiences at:


More from Alex soon – we’re treating this as our own little experiment to see just how cosy he stays in our yarn!


16 Comments Post a comment
  1. Bev #

    beautiful woolen wear – great story – best wishes – stay warm!

    March 7, 2012
  2. Emily #

    How cool is that! What a wonderful idea, and how interesting it will be to follow the adventures of Man and Knitting.

    March 7, 2012
  3. J. #

    “Cool” indeed :).
    Gorgeous sweater, here’s hoping this becomes a success story for all involved – including the sweater!

    March 7, 2012
  4. mkg #

    What a great post–not to mention a gorgeous sweater!

    March 7, 2012
  5. Deb #

    Yay for Shetland wool!

    March 7, 2012
  6. Tracy Harris #

    Well done Sandra. You are known at the ends of the earth!

    March 7, 2012
  7. #

    May all go well for your group in Antarctica! I have only been there as a tourist. And I am so glad to see you in Shetland knitwear, carrying on the Shackelton tradition. Besides, I love Lerwick and am going there again in October, this year to attend Wool Week, the annual Accordion & Fiddle Festival, and to pick up yarn from Jamieson & Smith.

    March 7, 2012
  8. Woop woop. Looking forward to seeing you for Shetland Wool Week x

    March 8, 2012
  9. Thanks All and Greetings from Antarctica.

    I am currently sat in my desk in my jumper.

    One of my favourite places in Shetland was Unst – on the northern coast – by the lighthouse built by RL Stevenson’s father. You can look all the way out to the North Pole in the Arctic from there.

    If anyone wants to contact me – feel free –

    Also if you have any schools in Shetland that would like to conduct a Live Skype Video Class about Antarctica – and see a familiar piece of Shetland there- only too happy to oblige.

    Hurrah again for Sandra! I wear your hat around the base at night too.

    Cheerio & enjoy Wool Week!


    March 8, 2012
  10. julie Wales #

    Did you knit the wonderful woolly ?

    March 8, 2012
  11. This was brilliant and put a massive smile on my face. All my favourite things in one place – knitting, science and extreme cold 🙂

    Can we have an update on how the Shetland knits hold up during your mission?

    March 8, 2012
  12. It is stories like these that make my job so interesting, varied and worthwhile. Many thanks to everyone involved and good luck for the next 10 months. If only you could have taken a Real Shetland wool Vi-Spring bed with you as well!
    Maybe we can send you a Real Shetland wool picnic rug/throw? Can we get one to you or will it have to wait for the mission to Mars?
    Very best of British….

    March 12, 2012
  13. Dear DozenOaks,

    Of course – will provide a few photos too. Will provide updates regularly.
    Also you can see for regular blogs.


    March 12, 2012
  14. Hi Julie,

    Sadly I don’t knit. Sandra at Jamieson & Smith knitted the knitwear.
    Its brill and she did a great job!



    March 12, 2012
  15. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for your message – and thanks for the good luck wishes.

    I would be interested in supporting anything Shetland related.
    Please write me an email on what you were thinking –

    I’ll get straight back to you.



    March 12, 2012
  16. Amazing…all that you do, Alex and your friends. Thank you, for doing what you do from San Francisco. I work at a school (staff member)…so I’ll share your blog with my fellow co-workers/faculty.

    I love J & S yarn and recently started knitting Kate Davie’s patterns…how can a knitter like me help you and your crew stay warm? 🙂

    Best of luck!

    June 7, 2012

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