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Press release

  • 22 December 2008

University of Sussex Review of 2008

A sample selection of University of Sussex research and events that caught the media's imagination during 2008.

Sussex on the Up

Sussex bucked the trend during 2008, garnering some sunny reviews in a year of downturns and seemingly endless soggy weather.

A clutch of university rankings placed Sussex among the top institutions in the UK and the world. Sussex was the biggest climber in this year's Sunday Times University Guide, rising from 30 to 22 in the UK's top 30 league table. The THE-QS World University Rankings, meanwhile, placed Sussex among the top 20 universities in the UK, in the top 50 in Europe and top 150 in the world. Sussex also scored one of the biggest improvements of all universities, and the best of all institutions in the elite 1994 and Russell Groups, in the National Student Survey (NSS).

The allure of Sussex and its environs lasts long after graduation too, according to research that was published by the Institute of Education Studies, which revealed in a survey of more than 600 final-year students that the University is able to pull in students from outside the local area and generate "considerable" loyalty to the University among its graduates.

International students, too, gave Sussex the thumbs up. The International Student Barometer (ISB), used by the UK government and the British Council as the official measure of international student opinion, stated that Sussex has expert lecturers, feels safe and secure and is the "best place to be" in England.

The long-awaited Research Assessment Exercise results rounded off the year, confirming Sussex's place among the top 30 research-intensive institutions in the UK. The results also revealed that the University has world-leading research in every single department.

Sporting Heroes

It was a golden year for sporting Sussex graduate David Stone, who scooped two gold medals (time trials and road race) for cycling in Beijing in the Paralympics. David was supported throughout his studies by a University of Sussex Sports Bursary. Current students also had their day in the spotlight. Business and Management Studies student Emily Llewellyn, 19, who is a champion showjumper, was named Sussex Young Sports Personality of the Year. Emily, who receives a sports bursary from the University, is in the top 50 senior riders in the country. Super-fit MA student Peter Muffett, 34, made the most of Wednesday sports afternoons at the University to train his way to a British Kickboxing championship title.

All creatures great and small

The new Laboratory for Social Insects (LASI), headed by Professor Francis Ratnieks (Biology), certainly caused a buzz this year, with plenty of across-the-board media interest in the research team's work on the British honeybee and a £100,000 donation from honey company Rowse for research. Professor Ratnieks also revealed to the world's press the selfless sacrifice of a species of ant.

Animal communication also featured in the news. Dr Gillian Sebestyen Forrester's (Psychology) video study of gorillas provided evidence that gorilla communication is linked to the left hemisphere of the brain, just as it is in humans.

Research by fellow psychologists Leanne Proops, Dr Karen McComb and Dr David Reby, meanwhile, demonstrated the capacity of horses to match herd mates to individual neighs and whinnies.

And new technology developed by Dr David Hill at the University of Sussex is being used in a three-year study of one of Britain's rarest mammals - Bechtstein's bat.

Artistic endeavour

It was a year of retrospection, revelation and reflection for those in the humanities at Sussex.

Historians, art historians and media practice students worked with Lord Healey for a major exhibition on campus in October of the former Labour chancellor's photography. The show, Furniture of the Mind, incorporated vintage film footage of Lord Healey as well as interviews carried out by current media students.

Professor of Art History David Alan Mellor gave a special lecture in November on Francis Bacon, which coincided with a major exhibition at Tate Britain of the artist's work. Professor Mellor, one of the few Bacon scholars alive today who actually knew the painter, focused on how cinema and photography shaped Bacon's work.

Meanwhile, Sybil Oldfield, Reader in English, found a connection between George Eliot's Middlemarch heroine Dorothea Brook and an unsung 19th Century social reformer Jeanie Senior. In writing the biography, Jeanie, An Army of One, Oldfield uncovered correspondence that suggested Jeanie was the inspiration for Eliot's now classic novel.

Dr Margaretta Jolly also turned to women's correspondence for In love and struggle, an analysis of letter-writing between British and American feminists from the 1970s onwards.

And stepping just a little further back in time, this year saw the publication of post-war diary entries by Mass Observation's most celebrated writer. Nella Last's Peace, the follow-up to Nella Last's War (dramatised for TV by Victoria Wood as 'Housewife '49' last year) was edited by University of Sussex MA graduate Bob Malcolmson and his wife Pat. Nella's original diaries are part of Sussex's Mass Observation Archive.

All in the mind

Sussex psychologists have furthered our understanding - and asked more questions - about the mysteries of the brain.

Dr Jamie Ward's research in to the senses-linking phenomenon known as "synaesthesia" led to widespread media coverage of his book, The Frog Who Croaked Blue. Dr Stefan Koelsch discovered that no computer can match musicians when it comes to our emotional response to music. And Dr Helga Dittmar joined other leading psychologists at the London Lectures to discuss her well-documented findings that size-zero models have a negative impact on the body image of young children.

Meanwhile, Professor George Mather attempted to take the tantrums out of tennis by analysing the accuracy of the line calls of players and line judges, and found that human motion perception is remarkably accurate.

New Year revellers beware; Professor Dora Duka had more bad news about the effect of alcohol on memory. In a paper she delivered to the British Association's Festival of Science, Professor Duka revealed how drink enhances the good memories and blots out the bad, fooling drinkers into thinking intoxication has more benefits than disadvantages. Better refuse that final sherry.

Appliance of science

Scientists at Sussex investigated everything from the molecular mysteries of disease to the secrets of the universe this year. Physicist Dr Robert Smith, Emeritus Reader in Astronomy, found himself in the media glare when he revealed that the world will end. According to Dr Smith, it will be swallowed up by the Sun in about 7.6 billion years - unless the Earth's orbit can be altered. While Dr Smith was sealing the planet's fate, Dr Mark Hindmarsh and his team at Sussex were unravelling the secrets of cosmic string - lines of pure mass-energy - stretching across the entire Universe. Cosmic strings are predicted to have extraordinary amounts of mass - perhaps as much as the mass of the Sun - packed into each metre of a tube whose width is less a billion billionth of the size of an atom. Finally, a small experiment led by Professor Philip Harris was ranked amongst the UK's most important particle-physics projects. The Sussex-led neutron electric dipole moment (nEDM) experiment, which looks to explain why the Big Bang created more matter than anti-matter in the Universe, was one of only three experiments to have been rated "high priority" in a Government funding review.

Brain researchers received £590,000 to discover how to block the formation of toxic particles in the brain that lead to Alzheimer's disease. Dr Louise Serpell, a reader in biochemistry, leads the project, which was funded by the Alzheimer's Research Trust.

Dr Luc Berthouze (Informatics) meanwhile, is enlisting babies to help in research aiming to provide earlier diagnosis of cerebral palsy. The babies' kicks and wriggles are monitored using motion capture technology. Computer-generated models of this information could help doctors build a picture of the range of normal movement in new babies and help them spot cerebral palsy earlier.

Friends and neighbours

Collaboration and cooperation were key themes for Sussex during 2008.

The year began with the launch of a new initiative between the University and the Royal Botannical Gardens at Kew. Scientists from both institutions will be working together to unlock the botanical secrets of Kew's amazing collections to help save the world's endangered plant species and find new medicinal uses for plants.

Energy researchers from Sussex Energy Group are now helping to tackle the South East's most pressing rural problems as part of a major new partnership - the Rural Research and Strategy Partnership - launched in April with the University of Surrey, University of Reading and the University of the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester.

Particle physicists and space scientists at Sussex will share in Government investment of 12.5m to support vital UK science research. The money is funding the South East Physics Network (SEPNet) - a consortium of six physics departments of the University of Sussex, University of Kent, Queen Mary University of London, Royal Holloway University of London, Southampton University and University of Surrey.

Major Sussex employer American Express joined the University to celebrate five years of the highly successful Amex-sponsored Masters programme at Sussex, which has educated 90 talented students.

Research and archive resources at Sussex also played their part in enriching community life: DPhil student Alexandra Loske began work on an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project to study the interior décor of Brighton's Royal Pavilion; anthropologist Dr Katy Gardner and Dr Kanwal Mand worked with Bangladeshi children in London to produce an exhibition for the Museum of Childhood and the Mass Observation archive of war diaries, letters and posters inspired war veterans and schoolchildren for a special Brighton Photo Biennial event in the city.

Sussex online

Collaborations of a virtual kind also made the news for Sussex in 2008. The University's new Second Life campus - a virtual world created online - opened to virtual visitors. Each visitor creates an online character or avatar and can interact with others and with campus facilities such as lecture theatres and the library. Avatars can even fly - something one BBC reporter tried out when she came to report on the web team-inspired innovation.

New technology could also benefit autistic children in the classroom. Dr Nicola Yuill (Psychology) is heading up the Sussex side of the three-year £1m ShareIT project, assessing the effectiveness of "shareable" technologies such as electronic whiteboards and touch surfaces in the classroom. These tools are used to aid collaborative learning in small groups.

Lord Attenborough bows out as Chancellor

Students, academics and staff came together to bid a fond farewell to Lord Attenborough, after ten years as the University's Chancellor. A star-studded party saw family, friends and admirers pay tribute at a special show, where a new portrait of Lord Attenborough was also unveiled.

Notes for editors

To see all our stories from 2008, our digest of media coverage and Press office information, go to journalists_and_the_media

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