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Press release

  • 18 December 2006

News Review of 2006

Staff and students at Sussex continued to make, shape and debate the headlines this year.

From performing atoms to distant galaxies

Photograph of a cluster of galaxies

A cluster of galaxies

Philip Harris inspects the neutron Electric Dipole Moment cryostat

Philip Harris inspects the neutron Electric Dipole Moment cryostat

Video of an ion being shuttled back and forth

A single atomic ion is shuttled back and forth

The cutting edge of scientific research at Sussex, especially in physics and astronomy, provided a stream of stories.

Making atoms perform a three-point turn was achieved for the first time by Sussex physicist Dr Winfried Hensinger with colleagues at the University of Michigan. This major breakthrough for physics is a first step towards creating the complicated labyrinth of 'atomic motorways' needed for super-fast quantum computers.

After ten years of research a Sussex-led team of physicists have made a significant discovery that could lead to a better understanding of the aftermath of the Big Bang. They've discovered a tiny distortion in sub-atomic particles, creating a pear-shaped neutron, which will give insights into the creation of stars and planets. Dr Philip Harris says: "This will really help to constrain theories that attempt to go beyond our current understanding of the fundamental laws of physics. For some of them, it's back to the drawing board; but for the better ones, it will definitely show them the way forwards."

Meanwhile, astronomers have also been casting their sights further afield than ever before. Dr Kathy Romer has been leading research that has discovered the most distant cluster of galaxies ever observed, more than 10 billion light years from Earth. As Dr Romer explains: "Clusters like this are vital to our understanding of how galaxies are formed. They are fossils of the universe and are treasured by astronomers."

Cancer research at Sussex received a major boost with grants totalling £5.6 million being awarded by the Medical Research Council to Sussex's Genome Damage and Stability Centre. The funding ensures that Professors Penny Jeggo, Tony Carr and Alan Lehmann can further their research into some of the causes and consequences of cell damage.

Well done US

The University maintained its strong international ranking once again in international league tables, while Physics and Astronomy topped a new UK survey based on the influence of academic papers in journals.

The myths of modern life debunked

Whatever the fashion industry may have us believe, new research shows that ultra-thin models do not help sell clothes. Sussex psychologist Dr Helga Dittmar and Dr Emma Halliwell, from the University of the West of England, interviewed 800 women on the perceived effectiveness of adverts. They found that body size of the models, whether normal size or ultra-thin, did not influence the women's opinion of the adverts' effectiveness.

Another myth was exploded by DPhil student Dunja Brill, whose research on Goths dispelled the stereotypes and showed that Goths really are nice, middle-class adolescents who, despite scary appearances, value old-fashioned morals and end up in well-paid, steady careers.

There's never been much doubt about the fact that football and booze go together, as demonstrated by the behaviour of football fans during last summer's World Cup. But what, exactly, is the link? Research by psychologist Dr Richard de Visser suggested that men may drink excessively in order to compensate for the fact they are not confident in their sporting abilities.

And if you think you're safe using a hands-free phone when driving, think again. According to Dr Graham Hole, the author of The Psychology of Driving, hands-free versions are no safer than hand-held ones. It's all to do with distractions, he says. "The problem with mobile phones is not vehicular control and only having one hand on the wheel, but rather, it is taking away attention from what is happening outside the car."

Animal talk

Anna M. Taylor with volunteer, Marley

Anna M. Taylor with volunteer, Marley

A gorilla engages with the camera at Port Lympne

A gorilla engages with the camera at Port Lympne

Sussex researchers are trying to further our understanding of the way animals communicate with each other and - possibly - with us.

DPhil Student Anna Taylor started research on dog vocal communication and began to search for 300 canine volunteers. "Owners like to think they know what their dog is saying when it barks," said Anna. "Hopefully, this research will help to reveal scientifically what man's best friend is really communicating."

Dr Gillian Sebestyen-Forrester is researching the communication strategies of gorillas by studying a family group at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Kent. "Just like you and I are using our speech to communicate with one another, gorillas also use vocal signals," she told BBC's Inside Out programme makers. "But that's not all they use. Just like us they also use their facial expressions and their gestures and body postures and their eye gaze to give information to one another."

Digging up the past

The Roman villa dig at Barcombe, near Lewes, East Sussex

The Roman villa dig at Barcombe, near Lewes, East Sussex

Professor Fred Grays book featured on Richard & Judy

Professor Fred Gray's book featured on Richard & Judy

Budding archaeologists were invited to get their hands dirty this summer on the site of a Roman villa at Barcombe, near Lewes, East Sussex. Short courses aimed at beginners or those with some experience of archaeology were introduced on the site by the University of Sussex's Centre for Continuing Education, in association with the Mid Sussex Field Archaeological Team.

A lost shanty town in Brighton known as the Sweet Hill estate that existed only briefly in the 1920s is the subject of research by lecturer Geoffrey Mead. The estate developed on downland to the north of Patcham village to help cope with an acute housing shortage in Brighton after World War One. The assortment of old Army huts were home to around 24 families - and their farm animals.

Professor Fred Gray appeared on the Richard & Judy Show in August to discuss why people love the seaside, following the publication of his book Designing the Seaside: Architecture, Society and Nature. Brighton's West Pier, the newly-restored De La Warr Pavilion at Bexhill in East Sussex and the Blackpool Tower are among examples of architecture discussed in the book.

Famous at Falmer

Broadcaster Martha Kearney and her father, Hugh, a former professor of history at the University of Sussex

Broadcaster Martha Kearney and her father, Hugh, a former professor of history at Sussex

Visitor: Actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Redgrave. Photo UNICEF/HQ04-0413/Steve Sabel

Visitor: Actress and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Vanessa Redgrave. Photo UNICEF/HQ04-0413/Steve Sabel

Author Philippa Gregory

Author Philippa Gregory

Victoria Wood wrote and stars in Housewife, 49, based on a Mass-Observation wartime diary

Victoria Wood wrote and stars in Housewife, 49, based on a Mass-Observation wartime diary

The Educator: James Williams

The Educator: James Williams

The year saw celebrated alumni returning to campus for special events and campus faces becoming famous themselves, as well as visitors from the worlds of film, media and politics.

In May Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty - the national Council for Civil Liberties, and shortlisted by Channel 4 for the 'Most Inspiring Political Figure in 2006' award, gave a talk at the invitation of the Sussex Law School and University of Sussex Students' Union.

In the summer Martha Kearney, presenter of BBC's Newsnight and Woman's Hour, revisited her childhood memories of the University of Sussex this week for a major BBC Radio Four series charting the post-war history of higher education. Ms Kearney, whose father Professor Hugh Kearney was one of the first academics to join the University in 1962, presented the second programme in the series, The Idea of a University, which was broadcast in August.

Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave gave a talk to the University's branch of UNICEF in her role as goodwill ambassador for the children's organisation in October.

Historical novelist Philippa Gregory talked about her career, her books and her fond recollections of being a University of Sussex student with fellow alumna, broadcaster and journalist, Julia Somerville. The Tudor-themed event, complete with an appearance from Henry VIII and medieval minstrels, celebrated the publication of Philippa's latest novel, The Boleyn Inheritance, which delves into the fates of Henry's later wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

A war diary from the Mass-Observation Archive at the University's library provided the source for an ITV drama, 'Housewife, 49' starring Victoria Wood. Head of Special Collections & Research Services Dorothy Sheridan helped with the original publication of the diary, Nella Last's War.

James Williams, a lecturer in education, became something of a celebrity when he took on the role of a science master for the Channel 4's That'll Teach 'Em. The series recreated the education experience of teenagers in the 1950s and Mr Williams drew on his own school memories to create the role of a discipline-loving science master.

Sussex students make their mark

Psychology graduate and Great Britain Fencer Laurence Halsted

Psychology graduate and Great Britain Fencer Laurence Halsted

Linguistics and English Language graduate and England Cricketer Rosalie Birch

Linguistics and English Language graduate and England Cricketer Rosalie Birch

Final-year psychology student Laurence Halsted proved himself to be the best fencer in academia by competing against more than 100 other students in the British Universities Sports Association's (BUSA) annual fencing competition.

Mechanical engineering student Josh Seal won a £6,000 award from the South East of England Development Agency and a place on a highly-prestigious entrepreneurship course for inventing a device to dramatically reduce the power consumption of electrical devices left on standby - and help reduce greenhouse gases.

Rosalie Birch graduated in the summer after combining studying linguistics and English language with playing cricket for England.

In August, the Students' Union's action to ban Coca-Cola products from its venues made news around the world as evidence of the continued existence of student political activism.

All change

Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith

Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith

Proposed changes to the provision of chemistry as a subject at Sussex made the headlines in March. The Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith appeared on Channel 4 News and BBC Radio 4's Today programme to explain the controversial proposals.

In May a proposal to merge departments to create a single Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was endorsed by Council.

In November Vice-Chancellor Professor Alasdair Smith announced that he would be stepping down in 2007 after nine years in the post. The timing is in order for a successor to be in post in good time to lead the University beyond the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise.

In December the Gardner Arts Centre Board announced that the spring 2007 season would be its last. The future role for the building will be explored with the intention that it remains an important part of campus life.

And now for the weather

As climate change quickens pace, University experts have been aiding and leading debates on how best to rescue the planet.

In November a conference on climate change looked at various urgent issues. Dr Jim Watson, who has described how small-scale wind and solar panels and combined-heat-and-power boilers, also known as micro-generation technology, could be the way forward: "Current policies to support micro-generation are welcome but they are piecemeal and hesitant," he says.

Notes for editors

For more information on any of these stories, please contact the University of Sussex press officers, Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: +44 1273 678888, Email:


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