Research news review

Music student stuns the critics

A youth opera with music by University of Sussex research student Julian Philips had its world premiere at Glyndebourne opera house in March 2010.

Julian, who is in his final year of a PhD project as composer-in-residence at Glyndebourne Opera, under the supervision of Professor Nick Till in the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre, was commissioned by Glyndebourne to write the score for the opera, Knight Crew. The opera story is based on a novel by Brighton writer Nicky Singer, which places the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table in a contemporary urban setting.

Julian commented: ‘My residency at Glyndebourne has been an extraordinary opportunity to engage with opera in theory and practice. I’ve been able to absorb myself in this complex art-form and develop my own creative response.’

Professor Till said: ‘Sussex and Glyndebourne have collaborated closely on this project, which investigated the potential for a composer to develop new operatic works that are both challenging and accessible for contemporary audiences and has demonstrated the value of academic and professional organisations working together.’

Find out more, and view clips from the opera, at Knight Crew on the Glyndebourne website.

Academics in the news

Sussex academics were much in demand as expert commentators during the year. The man with arguably the busiest media diary was Professor Tim Bale (Politics), who (during an election year) was called on by, among many others, Wall Street Journal, BBC Breakfast News, The Financial Times, the Guardian, The Times, Bloomberg News, Panorama, Sky News, Five Live, the Washington Post, the Independent on Sunday and Reuters. Professor Carol Dyhouse (History) and her book Glamour: Women History, Feminism, proved an irresistible proposition for the media, leading to appearances and articles for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, the Guardian, the Financial Times, the BBC World Service and numerous women’s magazines. And the Laboratory of Social Insects (LASI) proved ever-popular, with visits from BBC’s The One Show, Kew magazine, and celebrity chef Ainsley Harriot.

Too shy for Facebook?

Sussex researchers are working on how we can engage with the digital revolution without holding our lives up for scrutiny. Jointly led by Dan Chalmers (Informatics) and Susie Scott (Sociology), an interdisciplinary team is investigating how ‘shy’ people use social networks like Facebook. Feelings of incompetence, shyness and embarrassment can be exacerbated by the demands of social media, Dan says. ‘This project is about looking to the future, the pervasive computing vision and the importance of “control”, because there could be an awful lot of information out there about you.

‘We are interested in trying to find ways of using the very latest technology to provide tools for people to either manage their way around situations that would cause them to feel shy or to present themselves in a way that they don’t feel under pressure to interact.’ The research will explore whether computers can identify situations that evoke shyness for particular users, and start to put together tools that can help people either avoid them or cope – as they choose.

The new Sackler Centre will help us to better understand the conscious mind

Pioneering new research centre to examine consciousness

A ground-breaking new interdisciplinary research centre that will tackle mysteries of the conscious mind and help us to better understand déjà vu, synaesthesia, amnesia, depression and schizophrenia opened in April 2010. The Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science has been made possible by a substantial grant from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation, which funds pioneering research into the brain.

Dr Anil Seth and Professor Hugo Critchley, codirectors of the Centre and principal researchers at Sussex, said: ‘Our joint aim is to characterise the biological underpinnings of consciousness in its varied expressions in a way that ultimately has practical clinical relevance. The Centre will integrate theoretical models of consciousness with both real-world clinical observations from psychiatry, and experimental observations from psychology, neuroimaging and computer simulations to address what is undoubtedly one of the “big questions” for 21st-century biological science. The generous and inspirational support from the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation will enable us to employ leading experts from around the world to help progress new research in the field.’