Informatics Newsletter April 2018

Issue 14 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

New Staff


  • Ian Simpson - Lecturer in Biological Informatics (was previously a Senior RA)
  • Yakov (Kobi) Gal - Reader in Artificial Intelligence and Human-Machine


  • Sohan Seth - Senior Data Scientist

Professional Services

  • Colette McColl - Senior Administrative Secretary (BTL)
  • Angela Surniolo - Secretary
  • Ahmed El-Rayis - Business Development Executive (TETRAMAX)
  • Ray Finlayson - Teaching Organisation Secretary PGT
  • David Cameron - Research Data Officer
  • Lisa Branney - Teaching Organisation Administrator (UG3)
  • Ashley Harper - Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (ECR) Administrator (maternity cover)
  • Belinda Hough - Institute Administrative Secretary
  • Ekaterina Churkina - CDT Administrator (Pervasive Parallelism)


  • Federico Fancellu - Research Associate
  • Simon Smith Bize - Research Associate
  • Roman Goulard - Research Associate
  • Jenovah Rodrigues - Research Assistant
  • Raphael Bricout - Research Assistant
  • Emma Garnett - Research Associate
  • Xenofon Foukas - Research Associate
  • Saumay Dublish - Research Assistant
  • Alberto Abad Gareta - Research Associate
  • Evripidis Gkanias - Research Assistant

Informatics Jamboree

Thank you to everyone who came to the Jamboree, everyone who helped and everyone who cared to send us feedback (you can still do it if you want to – link below).

Send us feedback

Congratulations to the winners:

  • He Sun who won the science-speed learning event
  • Alpaca Patrol Team who won the pub quiz
  • Carrie McNamee who won the baking competition
  • And Philip Gorinsky who won the retro gaming competition

You can see some of the photos in the gallery below. If you are in any of the pictures, we kindly ask you to fill in the consent form so that we can keep using the photos.

Photo gallery

Consent form

Last but not least – See the 'Guess The Baby' results below!

Guess The Baby results

Research Day

This year’s research day took place on 24th April. If you couldn’t attend, please have a look at the presentations.

Research Day 2018

Informatics Historical Trivia

Have you ever wondered what is the rhino head on the side of the Informatics Building? Or the metal book at the entrance to the Forum?

Informatics Artworks

More Informatics Historial Trivia

'Did You Know?' Series #1

Brief History of Informatics

Pioneers of Informatics

If you’re interested in contributing to future articles about the history of the School, please contact Infcomms.

Contact Infcomms

Research successes

  • Professor Simon King has been elected to Fellowship of the International Speech Communication Association (ISCA) “For contributions to text-to-speech synthesis and the use of speech production knowledge in speech technology.” Each year, following a rigorous evaluation procedure, the ISCA Fellow Committee recommends less than 0.333% of the entire ISCA Membership to receive the distinction of ISCA FELLOW.  As such, the title ISCA Fellow is one of ISCA’s most prestigious honour’s for an individual in the field of speech science/technology. ISCA and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) are the two professional bodies in this field, and Simon already has Fellowship of IEEE.


  • Prof Mike O-Boyle has been awarded 5 year EPSRC Established Career Fellowship. In 1965 Gordon Moore observed that the number of components on a computer chip doubles every 18 months. For almost 50 years Moore's Law has been the main driver behind the extraordinary success of computer systems. However, with the technology roadmap showing a decline in transistor scaling and hence the demise of Moore's law, computer systems will be increasingly specialised and diverse. Currently the contract is: hardware may change radically "under the hood", but the code you ran on yesterday's machine will run just the same on tomorrow's - but even faster. Hardware may change, but it looks the same to software, always speaking the same language. This common, consistent language allows the decoupling of software development from hardware development. It has allowed programmers to invest significant effort in software development, secure in the knowledge that it will have decades of use. But this contract is beginning to fall apart, putting in jeopardy the massive investment in software. As it stands, software will not fit. Current compiler technology, whose role is to map software to the underlying hardware is simply incapable of doing this. This looming crisis requires a fundamental rethink of how we design, program and use heterogeneous systems. This fellowship proposes a new way of tackling heterogeneity and embrace the end of Moore's law.


  • Prof Ursula Martin has been awarded an extension to her EPSRC Established Career Fellowship. The fellowship focuses on two research questions: "Beyond Inference": how can the researchers give human mathematicians the benefits of computer proof, while shielding them from its complexity? And "Towards impact”: how can they evaluate the impact and cultural capital of foundational research?  Mathematics is recognized as a profound intellectual achievement, with impact on many aspects of wealth creation and quality of life, and as unique cultural capital, drawing crowds to exhibitions and public lectures. For centuries, the highest level of mathematics has been seen as an isolated creative activity, to produce a proof of a difficult theorem for review and acceptance by research peers. However, at a remarkable inflexion point, new technology is radically extending the power and limits of individuals. Websites such as the polymath or mathoverflow allow researchers to collaborate with each other, and "show their working", so that others outside their specialist field can engage with their research and get early insight into things that might be useful. Now routinely used for verification of hardware and software designs, and in cyber-security, computer proof goes beyond symbolic computation, or numerical simulation, to generate mathematical arguments too complex for humans to grasp, and to check these chains of inference from first principles.


  • Taku Komura has received funding from the Royal Society for his project Animating and Directing Fire. Physically correct simulations of nature phenomenon recently gathered significant attention in computer graphics research community. Considering recent strides in solid object deformation modelling and physically based frame simulation, one would expect that robust model for burning objects was proposed. Surprisingly, no physically correct system for simulating burning objects can be found despite the desperate need for such systems in generating realistic CG effects in entertainment industry. Burning object simulations could also be extensively used in civil engineering and other fields, potentially saving lives or making buildings more efficient for evacuation. This project provides a physically correct model for burning object simulation and a robust reference implementation. It will also provide complex model of deformations, which can be used for modelling extremely rigid or flammable materials, such as wood or cotton. Moreover, the simulation targets interactive performance on publicly available hardware, such as gaming rated GPUs and high-medium end CPUs. This will be done through making use of sampling and machine learning techniques. Finally, we will also develop a scheme that allows the animators to control the animation, such that scenes to be used for films can be easily synthesized through high level instructions using intuitive interfaces.


  • Michael Rovatsos has secured funding from the European Commission for his Cyprus Center for Algorithmic Transparency (CyCAT) project. CyCat is an EU-funded 3-year €1m project led by the Open University of Cyprus in collaboration with the universities of Edinburgh, Sheffield, Haifa, and Trento around establishing the Cyprus Centre for Algorithmic Transparency, a research centre at the Open University of Cyprus (OUC). CyCAT will become the regional expert in issues of information access in light of algorithmic gatekeeping, working with local communities and stakeholders to promote algorithmic transparency and enhance digital skills. Beyond this emphasis on improving digital skills in Cyprus and the broader region, the project aims to conduct fundamental research in the area of algorithmic transparency, and to establish new collaborations between the Centre and relevant leading groups around the world. Within the project, the Edinburgh team will lead activities around intra-institutional networking, which are a core element of our programme of work.

News from around the School

  • Walid Magdy’s recent research into skin tone emojis has attracted a lot of attention from the media outlets. It’s been picked by National Geographic, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Online, STV Online, among others.

Darker emoji skin tones promote diversity, Twitter study shows


Jane Hillston giving a presentation in Shenzen
  • On 18th April Jane Hillston gave a presentation about the Huawei Lab and the School of Informatics to the audience gathered in Caledonian Hotel to celebrate the Chinese city of Shenzen and its links to Edinburgh. Wolfgang Merkt (Sethu Vijayakumar’s PhD student), was also there; he has benefited from support from the Shenzhen government in entering the Chinese market with his start-up. The event was hosted by the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government. The forum provided delegates with an introduction to Shenzhen, a city of innovation and a UNESCO recognised City of Design.  One of the objectives of the meetings was to present details of the “Peacock Plan” to attract talented individuals (academics and entrepreneurs) to Shenzhen. This is intended to bring 1,000 highly qualified individuals from within China and overseas during the course of 2018. The City of Edinburgh has a twinning arrangement with the City of Shenzhen and the Lord Provost of the city, Frank Ross, was present at the event as well as the Chinese Consul General. The University has a number of growing collaborations within Shenzhen, including the School’s Joint Research Lab with Huawei, which is headquartered in Shenzhen, so a number of Edinburgh academics were invited to attend.


  • Appleton Tower, is this year’s winner of the ‘Design Through Innovation’ category in the 2018 RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Awards

Recognition for Appleton Tower modernisation project

Student news

  • The System Design Project Final Day too place on 6th April and students won variety of prizes.

Informatics students showcase their projects to applause from industry experts

If you’re a third year student please do get in touch with the Comms Team if you have any query regarding SDP 2018.

We also need your consent so that we can use the photos taken on the day!

Consent form


  • Stanley Wang who is one of our MSc students was in the University Challenge Edinburgh team. Unfortunately his team were trounced in the semi-final by St John’s Cambridge we are very proud of Stanley and colleagues for reaching the semis!


  • One of our PhD students, Yang Liu, has been awarded a prestigious Google PhD Fellowship in the field of Natural Language Processing. Congratulations to Yang and Mirella, his supervisor!

Announcing the 2018 Google PhD Fellows for North America, Europe and the Middle East

I am delighted that Yang has been selected to receive this prestigious Google PhD Fellowship. I am looking forward to working closely with Yang and researchers at Google on representation learning for natural language understanding.

Mirella Lapata


  • One of our PhD students, Sorcha Gilroy (CDT Data Science), is one of the three winners of the College Heat of the 3 Minute Thesis Competition and will go on to the University final. Sorcha presented at the Research Day and we can all agree her talk was great!

She has also received an outstanding paper award at Annual Conference of the North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics.

In other news

  • On Friday 25 May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force, replacing the Data Protection Act 1998 in regulating how we collect, use, store and dispose of personal data. Moreover, the GDPR places the onus for proving compliance firmly on the University. These changes will affect all staff who handle personal data.

University websites


  • This July 5th, Pride in STEM, House of STEM, InterEngineering, and Out in STEM are launching the first ever International Day of LGBTQ+ People in STEM which we have dubbed #LGBTSTEMDay.

Help needed for #LGBTSTEMDay

Outreach and Public Engagement

Applications are open for I'm an engineer/scientist online competitions

This is an online event where school students meet and interact with scientists/engineers is now open for applications. It’s an X Factor-style competition between scientists/engineers, where students are the judges. Students challenge the scientists/engineers over fast-paced online text-based live chats. They ask the scientists/engineers anything they want, and vote for their favourite scientist/engineer to win a prize of £500 to communicate their work with the public.

The School of Informatics researchers usually fall into one of the engineering zones, which this time round are space and artificial body.

Petros Papapanagiotou took part last autumn and won!

Petros’s blog: 'Thank you from your winner – Petros!'

Further details

I'm a scientist

I'm an engineer

Call for Contributions, University Meadows Festival stall, 2-3 June

The Edinburgh Local team are planning an involvement in the Meadows Festival: a large community event in the Meadows. If you have any activities to contribute to this stall, the team would be delighted to hear from you. It is an open-air festival, so anything not requiring power, yet interactive and family-friendly would be ideal. It's a great opportunity to engage people who wouldn't necessarily go to an event with a particular theme (e.g. science festival, arts festival, etc.)

To offer something, please contact Sarah Anderson.

Contact Sarah

Meadows Festival - Facebook page

Call for Contributions, Haddington 700

Art Point Scotland and the Haddington 700 (east Lothian Council) are organising a series of family focussed events during the weekend 31st August – 2nd September. While Saturday and Sunday events focus on art and history, Friday 31st September is looking towards the future through the lens of science.

This free event will take place in the Haddinton’s most central venue, Corn Exchange, from 9amto 1pm. It will be advertised to the local primary and secondary schools and open to general public. Please help us bring your research to the East Lothian.

The organisers welcome proposals for activities including workshops, drop- drop in stalls and demonstrations.

Tables, poster boards, etc. will be arranged upon request.

Please contact Art Point Scotland for further details or to express interest.

Contact Art Point Scotland

If you would like to contribute to the Art & History focussed days, please contact them as well.

Call for Contributions, Engage 2018 public engagement conference, Edinburgh, deadline: 18th June

Around themes of the future of public engagement, reflecting on change in the sector, and understanding engagement practice, Engage 2018 has a call for contributions open until 18th June. Being in Edinburgh (rather than its usual home in Bristol) means that participating will be a lot easier than it has been in previous years for Edinburgh PE practitioners. If you are planning to submit something to the call, please join University of Edinburgh sharepoint discussions to help coordinate the entries.  Simply click the link below to join the group.

For further details, including the conference formats, see the link below.

Engage 2018: Call for contributions

UoE PE group sharepoint


  • The first University of Edinburgh Learning and Teaching Conference will be held on Wednesday 20th June 2018 at the John MacIntyre Conference Centre, Pollock Halls of Residence.

Learning & Teaching Conference 2018


  • A new lecture series showcasing pioneering interdisciplinary work across the sciences and humanities, the Futures Lectures series will feature high-profile guests who have redefined interdisciplinary research by making unexpected connections across fields and methodologies. First lecture takes place on 18th May.

Futures Lecture Series | Labels are Dangerous


  • The 12th NASA ESA AHS conference is organised by the University of Edinburgh and will take place in Edinburgh between 6-9 Aug 2018. Topics are greatly related to the activities at the school. Please find the conference leaflet attached. The conference will have a keynote titled: "Robots on the Moon and on Mars" from Dr Adrian Stoica Manager of Robotic Systems Estimation at NASA JPL. Also, other keynotes by Dr Dimitar Filev, Control & AI at Ford Motor Company, USA and Prof Yang Gao, Space Autonomous Systems, University of Surrey.

AHS 2018 - Keynote Addresses and Talks

If you would like to organise a special session, please contact Prof Tughrul Arslan.

Contact Prof Tughrul Arslan


  • Pint of Science is taking place in May and features speakers from Informatics. Pint of Science brings some of the most brilliant scientists to your local pub to discuss their latest research and findings with you. You don't need any prior knowledge, and this is your chance to meet the people responsible for the future of science (and have a pint with them). 

Adam Lopez will be pondering on whether Google Translate will learn to translate poetry and Sethu Vijayakumar will be discussing the future of Interactive Robotics.

Language: From the brain to machines

Designing Robots and AI for the future

Informatics Auld Alliance French Movie Club

A French Movie Club is being set up in Informatics and you can join in if you’re into French (and subtitled!) films.

Here are a few of the movies proposed:

  • Amelie
  • Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
  • Les Visiteurs
  • Taxi (1998)
  • Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis
  • Le diner de con
  • Tais Toi!
  • Les Fugitifs
  • La Cuisine Au Beurre
  • L'aile ou la cuisse
  • Le Grand Restaurant
  • Faut pas prendre les enfants du bon Dieu pour des canards sauvages
  • Les aventures de Rabbi Jacob
  • Le Gendarme de St. Tropez
  • Le Gendarme à New York
  • Le Gendarme se marie
  • Le Gendarme en balade,
  • Le Gendarme et les Extra-terrestres,
  • Le Gendarme et les Gendarmettes,
  • Le Grand Blond avec une chaussure noire
  • Fantômas
  • Faites sauter la banque
  • L'Atalante
  • Jean de Florette
  • Manon des Sources
  • Intouchables
  • Le Premier Jour du reste de ta vie
  • Nos jours heureux
  • Vilaine
  • L'arnacoeur
  • Les trois frères
  • Le Pari
  • Le Père Noël est une ordure
  • Les Bronzés

The events will be BYOF, BYOB, and will be held in the last week of every second month. Free to attend!

If this is something you would likely participate in by filling out the Doodle Poll your preferred times and weekdays.

Doodle Poll

The day and time that gets the most votes will inform when to hold the Auld Alliance French Movie Club. The number of interested parties will also dictate where we would hold the event, so location is TBC (in the Forum or Appleton Tower).

Please get in touch with Alex or Ségo if you have questions.

Contact Alex

Contact Ségo

Guess who?

Did you know Informatics is taken over by swing dancers?

To name a few students and members of staff…

If you’re interested in swing dancing, ask any of the dancers – Edinburgh is the place to be!


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


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