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Press release

  • 25 July 2005
  • Summer graduation celebrations for University of Sussex students

    Graduating with smiles

    Graduating with smiles


    Photo of the graduation ceremony

    The graduation ceremony


    Photo of Lord Attenborough with Professor Richard Dawkins

    Lord Attenborough with Professor Richard Dawkins


    Photo of Chris Wright and his bike data logger

    Chris Wright and his bike data logger


    A record number of students received degrees, diplomas and certificates at the University of Sussex Graduation this year from the University's Chancellor, Lord Attenborough.

    More than 2,500 graduands gathered at the Dome in Brighton, for ceremonies held on 21 July and 22 July.  Honorary degrees were conferred to:

    • Dr Paul Oestreicher, Canon Emeritus at Coventry Cathedral and Honorary Quaker Chaplain, University of Sussex, who was made Doctor of Laws.
    •  Professor Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and science writer, who was made Doctor of Science.
    •  Sir David Watson, retiring Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton, who was made Doctor of Laws.
    • Jessica Rutherford, former director of Brighton Museum, who was made Doctor of Letters.

    Many of the students were celebrating remarkable achievements and had interesting stories to tell about their experiences of being a student at Sussex. Here is just a sample.



    Chris comes up with a device to help mountain bikers


    Chris Wright put his enthusiasm for mountain biking to good use during his University of Sussex degree course to come up with a device that could help cyclists improve their bike's performance.


    Chris, who graduated with a BSc in multimedia and digital systems, designed and built a bike data logger for his final-year project. The device, consisting of a circuit board and specially adapted sensors, can be attached to a bike to record information during a ride about its acceleration and suspension performance. The information can then be downloaded on to a computer to create graphs for each ride.


    Now Chris, 25, is hoping to improve his prototype with a view to making it available commercially.


    He says;  "There are data loggers available, but they are incredibly expensive -  costing up to £100,000 - and are mainly used by professionals. Mine only cost about £80 to build and might be something the amateur enthusiast would want. The idea is that if your bike isn't performing as it should, you can test it with the data logger and analyse the results."


    The real achievement for Chris, however, was finding a practical application for his studies. "I was working in a bike shop in London for two years before coming to Sussex and I achieved a NVQ in bike maintenance, but I have always been interested in the mechanics of cycles and suspension set-ups. These are the essential components that make a difference to a bike's performance."


    Professor Paul Gough, Chris's project supervisor, says; " Not only did Chris find a way of incorporating his favourite hobby into his degree studies, he has also come up with an extremely good device that has commercial potential."



    Joanna gave her time to helping tsunami victims


    When the Boxing Day tsunami struck, University of Sussex psychology student Joanna Huxster's first thought was for her fiancé Raja Natarajan, caught up in the disaster thousands of miles away in the southern province of Tamil Nadu in southern India.


    It took three days for Joanna, 26, from Thames Ditton in Surrey, to track him down. Raja was safe at home in Mamallapuran, 60km south of Chennai (Madras). A cousin's young son, however, had been killed in the disaster, while villages just kilometres away had been wiped out, leaving many dead and homes and livelihoods destroyed.


    "I decided I had to do something," says Joanna, so she spent the next five months juggling revision for her final exams with raising money and delivering vital supplies to fishing communities in Tamil Nadu, where 7,000 lost their lives in the tsunami devastation. "We held a big raffle, I baked cakes, and sold most of my clothes and personal possessions to raise cash. Friends did the same and we managed to raise £1,000. I funded myself for trips over to India, so every penny raised went on providing vital supplies."


    Meanwhile Raja, who works as a stone carver and waiter, approached village heads to find out what was required. With support from her father Bob and mother Pip, Joanna was able to provide 400 saris, 400 lungis (skirt-like garments worn by men), 50 small fishing boats and 50 fishing nets. Meantime, she also earned a 2:1 psychology degree and will be graduating today, watched by her parents.


    Joanna, who returned from her latest trip in early July, says: "The people there are very resilient and highly skilled. Six months on, the community is starting to go fishing again. Many people are still living in makeshift accommodation with still no idea from the government as to where or when they will be rehoused. There is no electricity and until recently the drinking water was contaminated with sea salt. These people do not want handouts. They just want to earn a living so that they can support their families themselves. But it would have been extremely tough if it had not been for the aid provided by the international communities."


    Joanna intends to continue raising funds for more fishing boats while working during the summer in London, before returning to Sussex to study for an MSc in psychology, looking at substance abuse. "I'd then love to go to medical school as a graduate, or take up clinical psychology. I'm also considering teaching."


    Joanna also has another important date for January 2006 - she and Raja, whom she met while travelling in India last summer, will be getting married in India.




    Matthew's focus on success


    Throughout his school years, Matthew Phillips was keen to prove that his severe sight impairment would not be a barrier to educational achievement. He has now surpassed even his own expectations.

      The 22-year-old, who suffers from, nystagmus, was conferred a first-class Masters degree in theoretical physics.

      "It was challenging," says Matthew, whose eye condition prevents him being able to focus on blackboards and normal-sized print, as well as causing many other practical difficulties. "But  I worked hard because I discovered that I really loved physics. I was staying in to finish homework rather than join my friends in the pub."

       Matthew, who took A-levels in maths, chemistry and physics at school in Wimbledon, originally hoped to study experimental physics at university, but realised that laboratory work would prove too much of a hurdle.

     Fortunately he discovered an interest in particle physics, which is a major part of the theoretical physics degree. As a concession to his disability, he was given extra time for assignments, used enlarged texts, and was able to work from his tutors' lecture notes.

       Dr Philip Harris, Matthew's personal tutor, says: "Matthew was an outstanding and very enthusiastic student, who overcame great personal difficulties to achieve a very good degree."

        Matthew, who has stayed at Sussex to teach science to summer school students and is now considering taking a degree in engineering, says:  "It was a learning curve for everyone for me to be here. It's a great place and I have had a really positive experience being a student at Sussex."



    Tom seeks the facts behind food labels

    Photo of Tom Betts

    Tom Betts won award for his food labelling project


    Ever wondered which part of the cow was turned into the mince for your ready-made spaghetti bolognaise? Or what the term "organic" really means when printed on egg boxes?

       Thanks to a University of Sussex student's prize-winning project, we may all soon be able to find out much more about the food we buy.

    Tom Betts, who graduated with a BSc in computer science and artificial intelligence, has created a database for information to help consumers understand more about food labelling as part of his course. He received the Searchspace Award for having the best undergraduate project in his year

         He now hopes that shoppers will be logging on to his website, Description of a Food Item (, through handheld computers or mobile phones, to help them make choices while browsing supermarket shelves.

      "After the Sudan-1 food additive scare, and series such as Jamie's School Dinners, people are much more concerned about the source of their food," says Tom. "At present EU law dictates that it is not obligatory for manufacturers to list the ingredients on labels if they form less than 25 per cent of the total product weight. They are also usually non-specific - listing "beef mince" without giving information about where it was produced, and by whom. But it is likely that someone, somewhere has the knowledge to describe the ingredients or production processes."

      Tom, 22, from Bristol, admits he has a very personal interest in the project, too."I am quite a foodie, and I found it frustrating that I was unable to find out information from food labels."  

     He now intends to further develop his project at the University of Edinburgh, where he will be studying for a Master's degree in informatics. "The plan is to have both consumers and producers providing information to share on the website," he says.



    Notes for editors 

    Photos available on request


    For press information, contact Jacqui Bealing or Maggie Clune at the University of Sussex Press Office. Tel 01273 678 888 or email at



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