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Press release

  • 27 January 2009

Speed and sound applauded at Winter Graduation

Graduands at this year's University of Sussex Winter Graduation ceremonies will share the stage with a ground-breaking composer and a record-breaking scientist.

Nitin Sawhney, who has received 15 national awards for his music albums, has worked with the likes of Paul McCartney and Sting and is regarded as one of the cultural pioneers of his generation, will be made Doctor of Music at the morning ceremony at Brighton's Dome Theatre on Friday, 30 January.

Richard Noble OBE, who set the World Land Speed Record with his machine, Thrust2, and is developing the technology to produce a vehicle with a speed of 1000mph, will be made Doctor of Science at the afternoon ceremony.

More than 1,800 students are celebrating their success this year. They include:

  • David Bradford, who gave up his love of riding, and writing about, motorbikes after being diagnosed with a potentially blinding condition, and went on to achieve a Distinction for his MA in Creative and Critical Writing.
  • Nima Davoodi, whose Doctorate in Experimental Psychology makes him the third member of his family to graduate from the University of Sussex.
  • Lisa Dart, whose DPhil on Philosophy and Poetry has led to the publication of her first collection of poetry.

A posthumous Masters degree in Medical Anthropology will be awarded to Sue Ridd, who died in November after a long battle with breast cancer. Her husband, Paul, and son, Ollie, will be accepting the award on her behalf.

Richard Noble OBE, Doctor of Science

Richard Noble OBE

Richard Noble OBE

Against a background of today's low risk culture, Richard Noble specialises in developing high risk ventures. Obviously not all of them can be successful, but the Thrust2 programme, which brought the World Land Speed Record back to Britain in 1983, and the ThrustSSC first ever supersonic land speed record programme are the best known.

Richard's other projects include the ARV Super2 light aircraft, the Atlantic Sprinter Blue Riband contender, and Farnborough Aircraft, which is creating the first point to point taxi aircraft.

At a very young age, Richard was inspired by John Cobb, whom he had seen racing his boat Crusader on Loch Ness during an attempt on the water speed record. Richard set to work to build his own series of jet-propelled cars with the aim of breaking speed records. He founded Project Thrust in 1974, assembling Thrust1 in his garage. Unfortunately, the car was written off in 1977 when a wheel-bearing failed at 200mph, but luckily Richard was unhurt. Thrust2 went on to take the British Land Speed Record in 1980, and eventually took the World Record as well in 1983. Driving Thrust2, Richard reached an astonishing 633mph in the Black Rock desert in Nevada.

By 1990 the World Land Speed Record was active again, and Richard helped start the ThrustSSC programme, and became a major part of its fundraising efforts. After much hard work, the team achieved a new land speed record of 714.144mph, the largest increase in land speed record history. The car went supersonic for the first time and then made the mandatory two supersonic passes over the mile within an hour. No other car has run supersonic and the new world record stands at 763.035mph for the mile.

Richard is currently involved with the Bloodhound SSC project, producing a vehicle capable of acceleration to 1000mph in 40 seconds for a further attempt on the land speed record. He is hoping to complete the car by November.

Nitin Sawhney, Doctor of Music

Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney is widely regarded as one of the most influential and versatile creative talents alive today. Firmly established as a world-class producer, songwriter, DJ, multi-instrumentalist, orchestral composer, and cultural pioneer, Nitin has become a latter-day Renaissance man in the worlds of music, film, videogames, dance and theatre.

Nitin has released seven studio albums, and has received 15 major national awards for his work. He released the album Beyond Skin in 1999, which took a prestigious Technics Mercury Music Prize nomination and won Nitin the coveted South Bank Show Award. Subsequently, Nitin released Prophesy in 2001, winning a MOBO Award as well as a BBC Radio 3 Music Award. His seventh studio album, Philtre, was released in May 2005, winning another BBC Radio 3 Award, and Nitin has recently recorded his eighth album, London Undersound, which features performances from Paul McCartney, Anoushka Shankar, Natty and Imogen Heap. Nitin has worked with a host of artists including Sting, Paul McCartney, Sinead O'Connor, A R Rahman, Jeff Beck, Brian Eno, Fink, and Will Young.

Nitin has scored over forty films to date, as well as having scored TV ads for top international agencies. His music for Channel Four's Second Generation saw him nominated for the prestigious Ivor Novello Award for Film and TV Composition (2004), and his scores have accompanied everything from dark, high-tension drama to light-hearted animatronics. Known for his versatility, Nitin has established himself as one of the world's leading composers for film, and has acted as a judge for BAFTA, BIFA and The Ivor Novello Awards. Recent works include orchestral scores for Mira Nair's The Namesake, Sony Playstation 3's Heavenly Sword, and Franz Osten's silent film classic, A Throw of Dice, which he wrote for the London Symphony Orchestra.

An acclaimed flamenco guitarist and classical/jazz pianist, Nitin's musical ability to transcend cultural barriers has also gained him much recognition within the classical community. In 2006 he composed a symphony to accompany A Throw of Dice, which premiered with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican, London and has subsequently toured globally with international orchestras. He has also worked with the BBC Concert Orchestra on Natural World Symphony, and the London Philharmonia on The Namesake. In 2004, Nitin was commissioned by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and the Britten Sinfonia to compose several new performance works. He is currently in talks with the LSO to collaborate on the Summer/Autumn

2009 season.

Much of Nitin's attention remains focused on the areas of education and community building, accepting the role of Artist in Residence for five performing arts organisations around the world. Nitin is a patron for the Government's Access-to-Music programme and is also patron of the Raindance East Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards. Nitin appears regularly as an arts and current affairs commentator on topical discussion and news programmes such as Newsnight, Newsnight Review, and HardTalk. He has also written for UK national broadsheets The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, and The Observer.

DPhil leads to first poetry collection for Lisa

Lisa Dart

Lisa Dart

Lisa Dart will be celebrating the achievement of her doctorate at the University of Sussex graduation and is looking forward to the publication of her first collection of poetry, The Linguistics of Light, in March.

Lisa returned to Sussex three years ago, after studying for an MA in Language, Art and Education in the 1980s, because she wanted to do something creative. "A small part of my MA was creative and it had whetted my appetite," she says. "I had been writing poems, many of which have been published in magazines, and I was one of four winners of the 2005 international Grolier Poetry Prize in the USA. But this gave me the opportunity to combine the creative with a critical piece."

Her DPhil on 'The Relationship of Philosophy and Poetry' involved writing a 20,000-word preface, looking at the ideas of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, as well as submitting 50 of her own poems.

Many of these poems, on the themes of time, memory and the relationship between words and the world, appear in her collection. Her poetry can be read on her website: She has also given readings in Greece, America and the UK.

Lisa, 48, who lives in Eastbourne and is Head of Curriculum Enhancement at St Bede's School, near Eastbourne, says: "In some ways I wish I had been writing earlier, but this is also the right time for me. Returning to education has made me much more focussed and has also renewed and refreshed my ideas for teaching."

Research Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Sussex, Peter Abbs, says: "This is a great achievement and demonstrates exactly what we are after at Sussex - a fine play of the critical and creative intelligence and original work that goes out to challenge and enrich our society."

Sue's final achievement

Sue Ridd

Sue Ridd

Sue Ridd's choice of study at Sussex was directly related to being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001.

Sue, who read English at Southampton University and completed an MA at Goldsmiths College in London, had been teaching English at a secondary school in Sussex prior to starting a Masters programme in Medical Anthropology at the University of Sussex in 2006.

"She wanted to study something that was personally meaningful and relevant to her," says Dr Maya Unnithan, convenor of the MA programme in Medical Anthropology. "She went on to write her term papers and dissertation on the cultural aspects related to cancer."

Intensive chemotherapy forced Sue to postpone the completion of her final dissertation by a year. In the face of her declining health, she continued bravely to complete her MA in the summer of 2008. She died after a short stay in hospital on 12 November, 2008.

Her son Ollie and husband Paul are attending the graduation ceremony to mark her courage and determination. They would especially like to thank Dr David Bloomfield and the staff of the Sussex Cancer Centre in Brighton, the nursing staff of Howard One ward at the Royal County and St. Peter and James Hospice for their tremendous and amazing support and care for Sue.

Nima follows the family tradition

Nima Davoodi

From left, Payam, Hassan, Betty and Nima Davoodi, at Payam's graduation in 2007

What's the collective noun for a group of people with doctorates? In the case of the Davoodi family, it must be a "dynasty", as a third member of the family will graduate with a doctorate at the University of Sussex winter graduation ceremony.

Younger son Nima Davoodi graduates with a DPhil in Experimental Psychology, completing for the Brighton-based family a 32-year association with the University of Sussex. Brother Payam graduated with a DPhil in astrophysics in 2007; while father Hassan was awarded a doctorate in geopolitics in 1983. Both sons earned first-class undergraduate degrees at Sussex, bringing the tally of degree honours to five.

Mother Betty Davoodi is a graduation ceremony veteran and has tirelessly supported her family through their studies.

The family has many happy memories of the University. Hassan and wife Betty lived on the campus in Park Village when Payam was born - in fact he was very nearly born on campus - and Payam, aged three, saw his father graduate at the Brighton Centre. Both sons remember spending time with their father in the University library when they were children.

Now the Davoodis will be applauding Nima at the Dome ceremony today.

The event has another special significance. Two days after Payam's graduation, Hassan, who is paralysed from the neck down and had been receiving treatment for cancer, became seriously ill and was close to death on several occasions. Having made a remarkable recovery, he will now be joining Betty and Payam to celebrate the latest family achievement.

Nima, 25, will be making the trip to the ceremony from his new home in Belgium, where he is working for a pharmaceutical company, researching anti-psychotic drugs used for the treatment of conditions such as schizophrenia.

But does the degree dynasty end with Nima? Perhaps not. Nima says: "We'll probably have to start having children now, and send them to Sussex, to keep up the family tradition!"

Distinction for David whose blinding condition became his inspiration

David Bradford

David Bradford
Photo: Mike King

Keen motorcyclist David Bradford was dealt a devastating blow three years ago when he was diagnosed with an eye disorder that could lead to complete blindness.

David, 26, who was working as a journalist on the monthly motorcycling magazine SuperBike at the time, was forced to give up his driving licence, surrender his passion for riding bikes and reconsider his future.

He returned to the University of Sussex, where he had studied English as an undergraduate, to take an MA in Creative and Critical Writing. "I hoped my return to academia would improve my writing and widen my remit as a journalist," he says. But he found his medical condition, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), inspired him to produce work that has earned him a Distinction.

"The return to study was even more fulfilling that I could have imagined," he says. "I ended up writing my thesis about the treatment of blindness in literature and philosophy, from Sophocles right through to J.M. Coetzee, which was utterly fascinating."

Professor Nicholas Royle, Convenor of the MA in Creative and Critical Writing, says of David: "He was wonderful student to have on the programme and an inspiring figure to his peers and tutors alike. One of his essays concluded with a dazzlingly powerful description of being diagnosed with a blinding condition, where the reader was left entirely unable to tell whether this was an actual or fictional experience. But as one examiner bluntly put it: "It doesn't matter." Both examiners declared it to be work meriting the highest grade the Sussex system permits and an exemplary instance of what can be done with the interplay and tensions between creative and critical writing."

David, who live in Lewes and is now a freelance writer, has also developed a new passion for long-distance running. Each year, he assembles a team of runners to take part in a local 5K run to raise money for RP Fighting Blindness, a charity that funds research into finding treatments and a cure for retinitis pigmentosa. To donate or get involved in the run, contact David via his website,

Notes for editors


  • The University of Sussex Winter Graduation Ceremonies take place at the Dome Theatre in Brighton on 30 January, 2009, beginning at 10.00am (for Social Science and Cultural Studies, Humanities, Life Sciences, Institute of Development Studies graduands) and 3.15pm (for Sussex Institute, Science and Technoloyg and Spru graduands).
  • For more information, please contact the University of Sussex press office, Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel: 01273 678888 Email:

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