Seven Sussex firsts

From opening the first campus-based arts centre to publishing the first blueprint for a quantum computer, the University of Sussex has a proud history of taking bold new steps

Illustration of various items that relate to the stories including a button, a banknote folded into a paper aeroplane, the campus, and an illustration of Helena Normanton

Britain's first campus-based university arts centre

In 1969, the Gardner Arts Centre opened its doors. From the outset, the Basil Spence-designed series of circular studios was intended to give cultural nourishment to audiences from campus and beyond.

Five decades on, with a new name (Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts) and following an £8 million refit and renovation, the Centre continues to be a space for innovation and creativity.

With a programme that includes contemporary dance, edgy and political dramas, experimental music, international and arthouse film and other events that defy boundaries, it is fulfilling its early promise of being ‘the yeast in life’s solid dough.’

First transatlantic email

The first electronic transatlantic email was received in the Richmond Building on campus in 1973, during a conference on computer communication.

It was sent from scientists in the United States to Richard Grimsdale, a Professor of Electrical Engineering whose research focused on computer networking.

Professor Grimsdale, who joined the University in 1967 and continued running labs and supervising students beyond his retirement, is also credited with building the world’s first fully transistorised computer. His years at Sussex involved developing computer graphics technology, now widely used in video and filmmaking.

First discovery of an unknown form of carbon

In 1985, Sussex chemist Professor Sir Harry Kroto discovered a previously unknown form of carbon that would lead to groundbreaking research in nanotechnology.

The football-shaped molecule, named the C60 Buckminsterfullerene or ‘buckyball’, has inspired a new generation of scientists to explore its potential for a multitude of applications, from super-strong yet ultra-light materials to miniaturised drug delivery devices.

The discovery led to Sir Harry Kroto (along with his US collaborators, Robert Curl and Richard Smalley) being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1996, and a knighthood the same year.

First English university to host an event for Holocaust Memorial Day

In 2001, Sussex hosted a special day of remembrance to mark the UK’s first Holocaust Memorial Day. The free event, open to all, was organised by The Sussex Weidenfeld Institute-Centre of German Jewish Studies and included shows and discussions on the theme of Holocaust Education Through Film.

The University has continued with the annual event, to remind current generations that the tragic mistakes of the past should never be repeated or forgotten. The event continues to focus on testaments from many Holocaust survivors and their families, alongside films, workshops and discussions. You can view a recording of the 2020 Holocaust Memorial Day event here.

First centre for the study of corruption

The Centre for the Study of Corruption (CSC) was set up in 2012 to tackle one of today’s biggest global challenges. From ways in which new technologies create opportunities for corruption to whether corruption negatively affects women’s access to human rights, researchers in CSC are looking at the impacts on society and coming up with solutions to help governments and organisations.

The Centre also teaches undergraduates and postgraduates (with three Masters programmes) and trains PhD students on a wide array of corruption-related areas.

First quantum computer blueprint

In 2017, an international team led by Winfried Hensinger, Professor of Quantum Technologies at the University of Sussex and Director of the Sussex Centre for Quantum Technologies, published the first practical blueprint to build an ultra-powerful quantum computer that could solve problems beyond the capability of machines based on conventional electronics.

The team currently plans to build a prototype quantum computer at a cost of £1-2 million based on this design.

First Sussex legacy donor

In 2017, Sussex launched the first Helena Normanton International Postdoctoral Fellowships, named after the first woman to practise as a barrister in England in 1922. Helena was also the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial and, significantly for Sussex, she was also the first person to leave a legacy in her will (in 1957) to the University.

Born in London in 1882, Helena grew up in Brighton and won a scholarship to York Place School (now Varndean High School). She eventually went on to train and work as a teacher. A champion of women’s suffrage, she pursued a legal career when a law was brought in to allow women to train as barristers. She continued throughout her life to campaign for women’s equality, helping to bring about change in matrimonial law.

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