A journey to the arts side: Norman Billingham

Professor Norman Billingham

It's never too late to learn, so the old adage goes, but can you ever be too learned to learn?

Scientist Professor Norman Billingham, who is graduating with a degree in Creative Studies, thinks not.

Norman, 68, from Saltdean, East Sussex, retired after a long and distinguished career in chemistry at Sussex, where he conducted research into the way plastics break down in the environment.

Although still active in research and as a part-time chemistry tutor at Sussex, Norman wanted to challenge his brain further and find out more about the arts side of University life.  After a course on opera (a long-time passion) run by the University's Centre for Community Engagement (CCE), he progressed to a full degree in Creative Studies, where he tackled the works of, among many others, James Joyce.

Norman says: "I suppose I decided to continue studying partly out of curiosity and partly out of interest in how the other side of the University thinks and works.

"I had never really thought I could get a glimpse of why a book like Ulysses is so highly regarded as a novel until I studied it as part of my course - and the same would be true of many other topics, including contemporary art.

"There's so much discussion of the arts-science divide that I wanted to separate truth from prejudice.   But maybe I'm also motivated by a bit of competition, as my wife, Jo, took a BA and an MA at Sussex in retirement and is now working towards a PhD at University College London." 

Now Norman's ventures into the arts have helped him with another interest, teaching science to conservation students at West Dean College, one of the University's partner institutions. 

Norman adds: "I've also got involved with the efforts of academic funding bodies such as the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to support and encourage a new generation of young researchers in conservation of cultural heritage - an area facing huge challenges."

But does Norman have plans for a further degree? "No - I think I'd like some peace and quiet. And no more essays!"

Last updated: Friday, 15 July 2011