Informatics Newsletter January 2018

Issue 11 of our School newsletter for students and staff

In memory of Jon Oberlander

In memory of Jon Oberlander

Obituary: Jon Reid Oberlander, academic, Professor of Epistemics, co-founder and first director of the Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance

New Staff

Support staff

Victoria Lindstrom - Research Data Officer (started on 3rd January)

April Cunliffe - IGS Recruitment Administrator (started on 5th January)    

Jane Kennedy - Marketing and Communications Manager (Bayes) (started on 8th January)

Cristian Novotny - Business Development Executive (started on 22nd January)     

Academic staff

Vassilis Zikas - Senior Lecturer in Security and Privacy (started on 3rd January)

Markulf Kohlweiss - Senior Lecturer in Security and Privacy (started on 8th January)         

Recent news stories from around the School

Jane Hillston
Professor Jane Hillston, incoming Head of School of Informatics
  • Professor Jane Hillston has been appointed as the new Head of School of Informatics. Many thanks to Johanna Moore for her contribution as current Head of School and leading us through the recent period of expansion. There will be a period of handover between current and new Head of School.
  • 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of establishing the School of Informatics in its current shape and 10th anniversary of opening of the Informatics Forum.

Brief history of the School of Informatics

  • Researchers from the UK and India - led by the University of Edinburgh - will examine links between long-term exposure to air pollution and health in Delhi over a four-year period.

Sensors to detect health effects of smog in pollution blackspot

  • Researchers from Edinburgh's Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research are joining a wider Cyber Security collaboration across Scotland in the SICSA Cyber Nexus, which is a new initiative that aims to focus efforts from Scotland’s leading universities on cybersecurity and cyberresilience, linking with government and industry to build new research and innovation capacity.

Scottish Cyber Security collaboration established

  • Researchers from the School of Informatics have identified security weak spots in gadgets that manage personal accounts using Bitcoin.

Bitcoin wallet devices vulnerable to security hacks, study shows


Recent research successes

  • Vijay Nagarajan secured funding from Leverhulme for the visiting Professor Daniel Sorin. Daniel J. Sorin is the Addy Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke University.  His research interests are in computer architecture, with a focus on fault tolerance, verification, and memory system design. He is the author of "Fault Tolerant Computer Architecture" and a co-author of "A Primer on Memory Consistency and Cache Coherence."  He is the recipient of a SICSA Distinguished Visiting Fellowship, a National Science Foundation Career Award, and Duke's Imhoff Distinguished Teaching Award.  He received a PhD and MS in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Wisconsin, and he received a BSE in electrical engineering from Duke University.


  • Researchers in Informatics are set to improve how the Internet infers information. Funding for the 12-month project entitled "A Query Answering Framework Using Functional Inferences Over Heterogeneous Data" comes from Huawei. Alan Bundy is a PI on the project with Wenfei Fan as co-Investigator and Kwabana Nuamah the research fellow. In his PhD work, Kwabena (Kobby) Nuamah created the RIF system, which breaks a query into sub-queries, finds the required sub-answers on the internet, curates them into a common format and then combines the sub-answers into an answer to the original query, with error bars estimated from the reliability of the sources and the inference methods. RIF will be adapted to and evaluated on various queries that are interesting to Huawei and its customers.


  • Douglas Armstrong and partners have recently been awarded an extension of the funding for their project Virtual FlyBrain. The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster is a simple yet remarkably powerful example of how brains work. The fly's brain contains 100 thousand neurons (one million times fewer than our own), but is still extremely complex. There are now huge amounts of fly brain mapping data and very powerful experimental laboratory methods. However brain scientists need sophisticated computer tools and databases to make use of all this information. Without these they will be unable to plan experiments properly and may end up repeating work unnecessarily, wasting time and money. Virtual Fly Brain provides an online one-stop-shop for research into the fly brain. Its intuitive interface allows brain scientists to see the details of others' work, share their data, develop new ideas and find new tools to advance their work. The project is a collaboration between the University of Cambridge Genetics (including, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, European Bioinformatics Institute and Edinburgh’s School of Informatics. The system is hosted in Edinburgh.


  • Vaishak Belle has been awarded funding for his project: Towards Explainable and Robust Statistical AI: A Symbolic Approach. This project aims at establishing a computational framework to aid explainable, compositional and robust machine learning. The framework builds on the unification of probabilistic models, which form the statistical basis for most machine learning methods, and relational logic, the language of classes, objects and composition. It will allow the researchers to effectively codify complex domain knowledge for big uncertain data.


  • Karctic Subr secured funding for his Holey Sampling: Topological Analysis of Sampling Patterns for Assessing Error in High-Dimentional Quadrature project. Numerical integration is commonly encountered across the computational sciences. Often the integrands involved are ill-behaved functions that span high-dimensional domains. In such cases, sampling-based integrators are ubiquitous. The errors of sampling-based integrators is critically dependent on the sampling strategies used. This project is concerned with assessment of samples, towards predicting errors resulting from their use in high-dimensional numerical integration. Researchers propose to develop mathematical connections between the statistics of holes, or gaps, in high-dimensional sampling patterns and the approximation error of the sampling-based integrators that use those patterns.


  • The demonstration of the Orion RAN Slicing System from ICSA researchers, Xenofon Foukas and Mahesh Marina, and Kimon Kontovasilis (NCSR 'Demokritos' Greece) received a double recognition. It was awarded with the best demonstration award at ACM MobiCom 2017 conference from a competitive pool of 22 demonstrations, including another demo from the same Edinburgh team. It was also in the final at the Lime Micro Hackathon. Emerging 5G mobile networks will become multiservice environments, enabling the dynamic deployment of services with a diverse set of performance requirements, accommodating the needs of mobile network operators, verticals and over-the-top (OTT) service providers. Virtualizing the mobile network in a flexible way is key for a cost-effective realization of this vision. While virtualization has been extensively studied in the case of the mobile core, virtualizing the radio access network (RAN) is still at its infancy. Orion, a novel RAN slicing system enables the dynamic on-the-fly virtualization of base stations, the flexible customization of slices to meet their respective service needs, and which can be used in an end-to-end network slicing setting. Orion guarantees the functional and performance isolation of slices, while allowing for the efficient use of RAN resources among them.

Student success

Testing biorobot in South Africa

5th year Informatics student Ramsey El-Naggar is travelling to South Africa to test his robotics dung beetle. South African dung beetles have unique navigational abilities within the animal kingdom: not only can they see the sun, but their tiny eyes can detect the (invisible to us) polarisation pattern of the day and night sky, and even the stars and the Milky Way galaxy. Perhaps more extraordinarily, these beetles have been shown to use all of this information to navigate whilst rolling their dung balls. Ramsey’s project’s aim is to replicate the same navigational behaviour on a biorobot. No dung beetle biorobot has been constructed, programmed or tested before. In fact, no neural models of dung beetle navigation behaviour have ever been proposed. The neural model itself is based on a very recently published (Oct 2018) neural model of visual navigation in honey-bees. If Ramsey’s project is successful, it’ll help understand how the beetle’s brain works. First however he needs to field-test his biorobot first, under the same South Africa skies. He will travel with a team of biologists to their field-testing location in South Africa, and there spend 7 days testing the robot within the same natural habitat in which this team have been observing beetles for many years. Navigation system based on dung beetles brains is by no means better than what we have (Satnav), but it’s much cheaper and could be used as a back-up navigation system if GPS goes down – for example in a robot that is sent to explore Mars.

Informatics student numbers graph

Students in numbers

Did you know we have 1604 students in total this year? We have used the headcount and split it into different categories. Please use this number until we update it next year. For more detailed statistics, please get in touch with the Comms Team.

In other news

Staff and student expenses

The School guidance has now been updated, following recent changes to the University expenses policy. The updated School guidance may be found on the School intranet. The new University expenses policy is available on the University website.

Informatics staff and student expenses guidance

New Expenses Policy (University website)

Visual Identity Guidelines

We have updated School’s visual identity guidelines. Please note that School of Informatics is not using the University-wide format for the secondary logo used by most other schools. The format the School is using combines the University corporate logo with the distinctive Informatics logo. All materials where logo appears should be reviewed; out-of-date logos should be replaced with the primary Informatics logo specified in the document below.

Elect Your Rector 2018: nominations deadline January 26th

The deadline for nominations for this crucial role is 26 January 2018. All staff and students can nominate candidates, so please encourage your colleagues to participate. The primary role of the Rector is to preside at the University Court, the University’s Governing Body. The Rector also chairs meetings of the General Council in the absence of the Chancellor. Nominations must be addressed to Ms Tracey Slaven, Deputy Returning Officer, and be lodged with her by 12 noon on 26 January 2018 . Each nomination must be signed by no fewer than 40 members of the electorate and accompanied by evidence in writing of acceptance of the nomination by the nominee.

Online voting will take place on 26-27 February 2018.

Elect your rector 2018

National Student Survey

The NSS is a survey for all final year undergraduate students in UK universities. It is a unique opportunity to pass on your thoughts about your whole experience through all your years of study at the University of Edinburgh. We read all of your ratings and comments carefully, so this is also your opportunity to identify improvements and shape the future student experience. The results of the survey are widely published externally and used by future students to make informed choices about where and what to study. The survey opens on 5th February and students will be reminded to take part by email and through social media communications. 

More about the NSS

Outreach and Public Engagement

Mini Maker Faire - call for participants, deadline January 31st

Part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival, Mini Maker Faire is a gathering of fascinating, curious people who enjoy learning and who love sharing what they can do. From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for these "makers" to show hobbies, experiments, projects, etc.

Apply for the Mini Maker Faire

FameLab in Edinburgh!

Want to improve your science communication skills? Aged 21 or over and studying or working in the sciences, technology, engineering or maths areas? The sign up to compete! You can be studying or working in STEM subjects, but you cannot be a professional science communicator.

Register to compete in the FameLab Edinburgh heat

FameLab Edinburgh heat training workshop

About FameLab UK 2018


The Edinburgh Mathematical Society Popular Lecture

All interested parties are invited to the talk on Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine by Dr James Grime (Cambridge, Enigma Project) (Friday 23 February 2018 at 4:30pm, Appleton Tower, Lecture Room 2)

Alan Turing was one of our great 20th century mathematicians, and a pioneer of computer science. However, he may best be remembered as one of the leading code breakers of Bletchley Park during World War II. It was Turing's brilliant insights and mathematical mind that helped to break Enigma, the apparently unbreakable code used by the German military. We present a history of both Alan Turing and the Enigma, leading up to this fascinating battle of man against machine - including a full demonstration of an original WWII Enigma Machine!

Dr James Grime is a mathematician and public speaker. He can be mostly found touring the UK, and the world, giving talks about the history and mathematics of codes and code breaking as part of our Enigma Project, or as a speaker on the YouTube channel numberphile.

Senate Meeting - Wednesday 7 February  

All members of staff are warmly invited to attend the University Senate’s discussion on ‘The University and its City: Partnering to Support Inclusion’ at its meeting on Wednesday 7 February at 2pm – 4pm in the Informatics Forum, Crichton Street. The meeting will enable all staff to debate the challenges and opportunities presented by the University’s strategic theme to ‘contribute locally’. Tea and coffee will be served after the session. Places for this event may be booked through MyEd.

Senate Meeting - Wednesday 7 February

Festival of Creative Learning

Booking is now open to the festival of ground breaking learning and teaching initiatives. Make sure you check the programme of events.

Some may be of interest to student and staff in Informatics:

3D Blockchain

iGEM Sandpit

Reliving the Rhino Head: Jim Haynes' Paperback Bookstore Revived

AI in the Cinema - Dystopia Now?

Knitting and Dancing Braids

Philip K. Dick Day: call for papers

PKD Day is hosted by Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, free, held at the Guild Rooms within Edinburgh Filmhouse on 27th April. The organisers have issued a call for papers that explore the relationship between science-fiction and scientific development or innovation. They are particularly interested to hear a paper or see a demonstration on how fictional representations of AI have informed actual development of that technology. For more information, check their website or Email Terence Sawyers.

Philip K. Dick Day 2018

Email Terence Sawyers

Informatics Déjà Brew

If you are a member of professional services staff you are warmly invited to drop in to our monthly networking event. Bring your own coffee and meet your colleagues from around the school.

Informatics Déjà Brew

Guess who?

Which member of staff spent 13 hours building a Lego Ghostbusters Firehouse?

And he has already started building something else...


Keep in Touch

For all the latest news, keep an eye on our website and social media channels!

Informatics Communications team website



Edinburgh Informatics Alumni group on LinkedIn


The newsletter is produced by the Communications team.

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