Research news

Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science receives renewed support

In one of the largest philanthropic gifts Sussex has ever received, the Dr Mortimer and Theresa Sackler Foundation renewed their support of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science.

The grant will fund highly trained staff and specialist equipment, as well as the Sackler Centre doctoral studentships, which will provide unique multidisciplinary training for a new generation of clinically oriented consciousness scientists. It will also enable the Sackler Centre to capitalise on hosting the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness in 2012 (by far the most prestigious symposium in the field). We hope that by 2016, the Sackler Centre will be the major international driver of clinically motivated consciousness science.

Cancer research gets a double boost

Pioneering work into molecular structure and disease has been awarded just over £2 million in funding as part of the Wellcome Trust’s inaugural Investigator Awards. Laurence Pearl, who heads the School of Life Sciences and is Professor of Structural Biology in the Genome Damage and Stability Centre, has been given one of just 20 Senior Investigators Awards, to study the protein molecule Hsp90, which is believed to play a key role in cancer as well as viral and parasitic infections.

Professor Pearl says: ‘This award gives me and my research team the time and resources to ask the central and technically challenging questions that will lead to a real understanding of how the Hsp90 system actually works. The long-term funding will help me sustain an effective and integrated laboratory, and provide the intellectual and financial flexibility to develop new approaches and take scientific risks.’

Local philanthropist Michael Chowen has given a generous donation to support oncology research at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS). His gift funds the work of Professor Peter Schmid, who has been a researcher and clinician at the newly refurbished BSMS research centre for experimental and cancer medicine, based on campus at the Trafford Centre, for just over a year. The work of Peter and his research group focuses on mapping the signatures of different forms of breast and lung cancer to enable more targeted treatments to be developed, thus reducing the uncomfortable side-effects of existing medication.

Sussex builds up its expertise in the modern history of the Middle East

A new Chair in Modern Israel Studies has been created at Sussex and will be named after Yossi Harel, a founding figure in the history of modern Israel. The Chair has been created with generous support from Lord Weidenfeld, the R and S Cohen Foundation, the Blavatnik Family Foundation, the Atkin Foundation, the Pears Foundation and the Gerald Ronson Foundation, many of which are leading benefactors of propeace charities in Israel and Palestine.

The Chair will contribute to the Middle East studies programme at Sussex, embracing teaching and research in all aspects of Modern Israel Studies, but with particular reference to the politics, history and society of contemporary Israel and the Middle East. The Chair will also promote and develop links between Middle Eastern and British academics, and two further lecturer posts are proposed, dealing with the history and culture of the Middle East more broadly.

Investing in postgraduates at Sussex

The University is investing £3.3 million in 2011 to support up to 70 doctoral studentships. The PhD studentships are available in all subject areas across the arts, sciences and social sciences. They include Research Council Studentships from six research councils. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), for example, has accredited Sussex as a Doctoral Training Centre for the social sciences, which allows the University to offer up to 22 studentships per year for five years.

There will also be a number of Sussex Fund 50th Anniversary Research Scholarships, which are provided through the generosity of Sussex alumni. These scholarships reflect the University’s strong international identity and are available to applicants from China, India and the USA.

Dinner celebrates Sussex research

Leading figures from the arts and sciences, government and public service were among the guests at a special dinner celebrating Sussex Research at the Royal Society in London in June 2011.

Special guest was Sussex graduate, Labour MP and former Government Minister the Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw, who spoke with affection, passion and humour about his time at the University: ‘Sussex opened up new ways of looking at the world – I learned the importance of first ‘defining the question’ when understanding or debating any issue. And Sussex truly had a world view in its approach to issues.’

The dinner provided an opportunity for the University to showcase groundbreaking research to policy makers, research partners, public funders and private donors. Guests included representatives from a wide range of organisations with interests in, or connections with, University of Sussex research, including: the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew; Friends of the Earth; the Charleston Trust; the British Academy; the Higher Education Funding Council for England; the South Downs National Park Authority; the Overseas Development Institute; the V&A Museum; the Department of Energy and Climate Change; the Royal College of Art; and the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Prominent benefactors of University research and facilities were also guests, and included Michael Chowen (an eminent supporter of the University and of the Brighton and Sussex Medical School); the Ninevah Charitable Trust and Waitrose (currently funders of research at the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects); and the Sackler Foundation, which has invested in the new Sackler Centre for Consciousness at the University, devoted to the scientific study of human consciousness (above).

Award recognition for Electric Potential Sensor

Sussex has been shortlisted in the 2011 Times Higher Education Awards in the category ‘Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology’ for the development of the Electric Potential Sensor (EPS), a non-contact voltmeter capable of acquiring almost any electrical signal remotely.

The technology has a wide range of interdisciplinary applications, from being able to monitor a patient’s heart rate remotely through a handheld sensor, to measuring the electrical imprint of fingerprints (see below). A team led by Professor Robert Prance, in the Department of Engineering and Design, has developed it and it is being licensed and manufactured by Plessey Semiconductors Ltd. In June 2011, the EPS application was awarded Gold Medal in the world’s leading Sensor Expo in the USA.

A leap forward in fingerprint analysis

A new approach to fingerprinting using the Electric Potential Sensor (EPS) could soon be helping forensics teams date and identify prints left at a crime scene – by capturing their electrical imprint. Currently, traditional methods of fingerprinting don’t allow forensics experts to date when a print has been left at a crime scene, and the vital DNA evidence contained in fingerprints is often contaminated during chemical processing.

The application of EPS technology to forensic fingerprinting shows that it might be possible to accurately date and identify the electrical imprint left behind in a fingerprint without interfering with any other evidence the fingerprint might reveal.

This is one of numerous applications being investigated by Professor Robert Prance and his research team. The findings are now published in the journal Forensic Science International.

The sensors work by detecting extremely lowfrequency electrical activity at a microscopic scale. The trace of this electrical activity left behind in the fingerprint is imaged using an electric field microscopy system. Professor Prance says: ‘In its present form this technique could be used in forensic laboratories now and, with the development of arrays of sensors, could easily become field deployable in the near future