Festival Spotlight: Framing PhD research – Image Competition winners revealed

The Festival of Doctoral Research Image Competition showcases the variety and global reach of PhD research at Sussex. Entries were exhibited at the Student Centre during the festival, and the winners announced following the Three Minute Thesis final on Thursday 9 June.

This year’s images were judged by University photographer Stuart Robinson, Prof Geert De Neve (Director of Doctoral Studies for Global Studies) and Katy Stoddard from the Doctoral School.

You can view the full shortlist, and the captions that tell the story behind them, on our Research Image webpage.

First place – £200 towards research

A corgi dog looks at the camera. It's left paw is standing on a large yellow button on the floor. Image: Alice Torjussen
Investigating the overlap in usability of accessible switches and buttons for disabled users and dogs. Image: Alice Torjussen

Our 2022 winner is Alice Torjussen (Engineering & Informatics) for this rather cute photograph that so succinctly represents her research into ‘the overlap in usability of accessible switches and buttons for disabled users and dogs’. The field of Animal-Computer Interaction looks at how animals interact with the increasing amount of technology around them, examines animals’ relationships with technology, and asks if there are cases where technology can be designed to allow them to use it more easily.

Dogs, in particular, have many reasons to use technology interfaces: medical alert dogs sounding an alarm to save a life, children with autism support dogs using technology, or pet dogs playing games with humans (multi-species games). By finding out what sort of ways a dog can interact with a computer (by pressing buttons, pulling, biting, barking, nose press, and others), we learn what works and what doesn’t, and help both humans and dogs.

Second place – £100 towards research

A microscopic image showing a network of neurons in neon green, with bright red clusters at the ends. It resembles a bunch of flowers. Image: Eleni Christoforidou
Neurons that innervate muscles. Image: Eleni Christoforidou

Eleni Christoforidou (Life Sciences) takes second place for her eye-catching scientific image ‘Neurons that innervate muscles’. What may look like a flower bouquet to some, is in fact what certain neurons look like under the microscope. Filaments of motor neurons (the neurons that instruct muscles to contract or relax) are shown in green, and the connection between neurons and muscles is shown in red.

Part of Eleni’s research is trying to find the reasons why these neurons begin to die in motor neurone disease, causing muscle weakness and ultimately paralysis and death. Because there is currently no cure, understanding the mechanisms behind neurodegeneration will lead to the development of new treatments that will hopefully change human lives for the better.

People’s Choice – £100 towards research

A plastic jug of black coffee stands on a sunlit table next to a small plastic pot of sugar with spoons. Behinf the table is a decorated water butt. Image: Jorge Ortiz Moreno
A rainwater coffee. Image: Jorge Ortiz Moreno
Jorge Ortiz Moreno receives his certificate from Prof Jeremy Niven. Image: Stuart Robinson
Jorge receives his award from Jeremy Niven. Image: Stuart Robinson

This year’s People’s Choice, voted for by staff and students online and in person, is ‘A rainwater coffee’ by Jorge Ortiz Moreno (Institute of Development Studies), taken on fieldwork on the outskirts of Mexico City.

Jorge is researching the way that rainwater harvesting is promoted as an alternative water source in areas of scarcity. He interviewed Mrs Hilda, who received a rainwater harvesting system from a philanthropic organisation in 2012, a few years after she immigrated to the capital. ‘I was about to leave here, because we can be without electricity, without gas, but we can’t be without water’, she told Jorge. Nowadays, her children have finished university and, during the interview, even had enough water to share a rainwater coffee.

The prize-giving also included the Research Poster competition winners and the 2022 recipients of the Adam Weiler Award, which recognises researchers with the potential to achieve outstanding impact in their work. We’ll be rounding up some festival highlights over the next few weeks.