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Doctoral researchers awarded for outstanding impact

Sunayana Bhargava

Halldor Ulfarsson

The Adam Weiler Doctoral Impact Award is given annually to an exceptional PhD researcher at Sussex who demonstrates the potential to achieve great academic impact in their field. 

Announced during the online Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) final on 17 June as part of the Festival of Doctoral Research, this year the award goes to two outstanding doctoral researchers. Sunayana Bhargava (MPS) and Halldor Ulfarsson (MFM) have demonstrated considerable impact in their work already and show potential for enacting real change. They will each receive £500 towards their research. 

Building on a highly cited and much-debated study in astrophysics, Sunayana’s research investigates the potential existence of a dark matter particle, the sterile neutrino, within galaxy clusters. Sunayana developed a new technique to search for an X-ray emission line across hundreds of clusters simultaneously; her findings proved conclusively that the line was a phantom of data analysis. As her supervisor Prof Kathy Romer notes, “It is not often that a PhD student gets to kill off an entire sub-field in Physics!” 

Sunayana’s findings, and her innovative methods, have implications for the future of dark matter and X-ray research, while her public engagement – including outreach with schools and work as a poet scientist – opens up the world of astronomy to new audiences.  

Halldor has taken a highly innovative approach to the design of a new and unique musical instrument, the halldorophone, which works on the principle of acoustic feedback and creates what players describe as a ‘stimulating uncontrollability’. 

Focusing on participatory design and user experience, and engaging with musicians and musical institutionsHalldor’s method of evolving his design is truly collaborativeHe has partnered with labs at Queen Mary University and Queen’s University Belfast and is establishing a production lab in Athens, as well as working with musicians to apply his conversion techniques to other instrumentsThe halldorophone has been adopted by musicians across the world, includingcomposer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who used it on award-winning soundtracks for Chernobyl and The Joker. 

The judges, Prof George Kemenes (Director of the Doctoral School) and Prof Kate Lacey (MFM, Director of the CHASE AHRC DTP), were impressed and inspired by all of the excellent nominees this year, and in a break from tradition have awarded commendations to a further three nominees whose research they consider to be of significant importance. 

These are: 

  • Selin Tekin Guven (Psychology), who is researching community organising after the Grenfell fire 

  • Ali Kassem (LPS), whose work looks at veiling in Lebanon, focusing on women's lived experience 

  • Alison Lacey (Psychology), who has adapted her research on school transitions to encompass the impact of Covid-19 school closures and social distancing on children's wellbeing. 

This award is made possible thanks to a generous donation to the University in memory of Adam Weiler, a former student in International Relations. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and thank you to Adam’s family for their continued support of outstanding doctoral research at Sussex.

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Posted on behalf of: University of Sussex
Last updated: Thursday, 18 June 2020

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