Informatics Newsletter April 2019

Issue 24 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

New staff

Research staff

  • Jakub Kaszyk - Research Associate (started 01/03/2019)
  • Nina Kudryashova - Research Associate (started 01/03/2019)
  • Niraj Kumar - Research Associate (started 14/03/2019)
  • Jessica Meagher - Research Assistant (started 01/03/2019)
  • Faheem Kirefu - Research Assistant (started 10/03/2019)
  • Bruno Yun - Research Associate (started 01/04/2019)
  • Benedicte Legastelois - Research Associate (started 08/04/2019)

Professional Services staff

  • Nina Abbott-Barish - Finance Administrator (Research and Institute Accounts) (started 08/04/2019)
  • Lewis Machin - Finance Administrator (School Accounts) (started 22/04/2019)
  • Barry Turner - Portfolio Manager (started 29/04/2019)
  • Jennifer O'Donnell - Staffing Support Officer (started 08/04/2019)


Informatics Jamboree

The Jamboree is TOMORROW! Some tickets might still be available and remember you can visit all the stalls throughout the afternoon.

Programme for the day

  • 1 - 2: Meet the Alpacas brought to you by Bowbridge Alpacas (George Square Gardens)
  • 12 - 2: Table Tennis Championships (G07)
  • 1 - 3: Bookstall brought by The Lighthouse Bookshop (The Atrium)
  • 1.30 - till all the cakes are gone : Bake sale (Cafe area)
  • 2.30 - 4: Murder Mystery (G03)
  • 3 - 4.30: Argentinian Tango class (G07)
  • 4.45 - 6.15: Table Tennis Championships TBC (if any remaining matches need to be played)
  • 5 - 6.30: Pub quiz with our quiz master, Neil Brown (G03)
  • 7 - 9 Ceilidh with the music provided by the fantastic Science Ceilidh Band (G07)

Throughout the afternoon (The Atrium)

  • Silent disco (Bob Fisher - see you on the dancefloor!)
  • Board games tables
  • Retro gaming
  • Kids' corner
  • Crafts table
  • LGBT Network stall
  • Informatics pets

Informatics Jamboree 2019

School General Meeting

Please note that the next School General Meeting has been postponed and will now take place on Thursday 23rd May between 2-3:30pm in G.07/G.07a.

Autonomous Weapons – We Need to Talk about AI

Edintelligence cordially invite everyone to attend the third event in their series of engaging panel talk about AI. The event will cover the ethics of using AI advances in modern warfare. The panellists are: Ram Ramamoorthy, Nehal Bhuta, Chair of Public International Law at the University of Edinburgh, works on human rights, the laws of war, the history of international law, as well as social and political theory and Maya Brehm is a researcher with expertise in international humanitarian and human rights law, disarmament, and weapons law.

Autonomous Weapons – We Need to Talk about AI

Research successes

2019 Google Fellowships

Two informatics PhD students received 2019 Google Fellowships: Nicolai Oswald in Systems and Networking and Reinald Kim Amplayo in Natural Language Processing (including Information Retrieval and Extraction). Google PhD Fellowships  include support for students as well as a Google Research Mentor. The Program was created to recognize outstanding graduate students doing exceptional work in computer science and related research areas.

Funding for GoURMET project

Lexi Birch and colleagues were awarded £730000 from Horizon 2020 to work on their GoURMET (Global Under-Resourced MEdia Translation) project. GoURMET is an EU project co-ordinated by the University of Edinburgh in partnership with the University of Amsterdam, the University of Alicante, the BBC and Deutsche Welle. It runs from Jan 2019 to the end of 2021. Machine translation (MT) is an increasingly important technology for supporting communication in a globalised world.  Recent advances in neural machine translation (NMT) have resulted in significant interest in industry and have led to very rapid adoption of the new paradigm. However these models are data intensive and require parallel corpora of many millions of humanly translated sentences for training.  Neural machine translation is currently not able to deliver usable translations for the vast majority of language pairs in the world. This is especially problematic for our user partners, the BBC and DW who need access to fast and accurate translation for languages with very few resources. The aim of GoURMET is to significantly improve the robustness and applicability of neural machine translation for low-resource language pairs and domains.  The outputs of the project will be field-tested at partners BBC and DW, and the platform will be further validated through innovation intensives such as the workshops centred around our user group and BBC NewsHacks. 

GoURMET project website

Safety Critical AI funding from the Turing Institute

Subramanian Ramamoorthy received funding of £263000 from the Turing Institute to work on his project Safety Critical Artificial Intelligence over two years (2019 – 20). AI is more and more often deployed in safety-critical applications involving physical interaction between humans and machines. This raises several new challenges that must necessarily be addressed if these technologies are to realize their potential benefits. The first challenge is the need for robust decision making despite noisy sensing, dynamic environments and unforeseen events. The second challenge pertains to the complexity of specifications required to capture the nature of planning and control in complex domains. This project addresses these challenges using a suite of techniques including interactively learning task specifications from demonstration data, formally analysing and introspecting about the properties of the learned models to establish safety properties, and then to synthesise correct by construction policies for robot motion. These methods will be applied in the domain of surgical assistance. Working with Co-I, Dr Paul Brennan from UoE Clinical Brain Sciences and NHS Lothian, researchers will apply these methods to a set of problems arising in the operating theatre, wherein robotic systems will provide assistance to the surgical team.

Boris Grot gets funding from Google

Boris Grot received $73000 from a Google Faculty Research Award to work on his Accelerating Address Translation via a Learned Page Table Index Project. Address translation is an established performance bottleneck in workloads operating on large datasets due to frequent TLB misses and subsequent page table walks that often require multiple memory accesses to resolve. Inspired by recent research at Google on Learned Index Structures, this project will explore a radical alternative to traditional page table walks based on learned models using neural networks. A key question explored in this research will be how to microarchitect a hardware-friendly learned page table indexing scheme with respect to latency, area, and accuracy.

Toyota Motor funding for Catherine Lai

Catherine Lai was awarded £81,000 to continue the project `Spoken Language Processing for Robot Companions’ funded by Toyota Motor Europe.  Access to speech-based interfaces can be crucial to navigate the modern world, especially for people with reduced physical mobility. The goal of this project is to improve speech technologies for assistive robots to enable more satisfying, personalized interactions which can help build long-term human-robot rapport. In particular, this project focuses on developing speech technologies to detect both what people are talking about and how they feel about specific topics in conversational speech (i.e. automatic topic and speaker stance detection), in order to develop useful and engaging interaction strategies. To achieve this, this work explores machine learning techniques for leveraging the richness of spoken language and interaction beyond text transcription.

UoG funding for Paul Patras for more IoT work

Paul Patras was awarded £70000 by the University of Glasgow to work on his project 'Automatic threat detection and anomaly counteraction in home IoT'. The number of Internet-connected devices is expected to reach 1 trillion by 2035 and a large fraction of these devices will become an integral part of households. This can improve the productivity and quality of life of their users, but also exposes them to new cyber security and privacy risks. Supported by the Centre of Excellence for Sensing and Imaging Systems and Internet of Things Technologies (CENSIS) and Arm, this project will design intelligent algorithms that can detect and counteract cyber threats originating from or targeting Internet of Things (IoT) devices in user homes, without requiring manual intervention. Novel mechanisms will also be devised to allow users to operate safely with potentially compromised gadgets, while ensuring such devices will not damage the networking infrastructure or the operation of other equipment in homes.

Lexi and Mirella among most influential scholars in NLP

Lexi Birch and Mirella Lapata have been listed in top 10 of most influential scholars in Natural Language Processing by AMiner, a free online service for academic social network analysis and mining. As of 2018, the system has collected information on over 136 million researchers, 230 million publication papers, and 368,402 venues. The system has been in operation on the Internet since 2006 and has been visited by nearly 8.32 million independent IP accesses. It provides various search/mining services for publishers, NSFC, and research venues such as ACM/IEEE Transactions, ACM SIGKDD, ACM WSDM, and IEEE ICDM.

More on AMiner website

A word from Research Services

Requirements and support for open access

On Monday 29th April we will be joined by a new Portfolio Manager, Barry Turner. Barry - coming to us from the School of Engineering - will be joining Carrie, Caroline and Laura on the third floor (3.35) – please call in and say hello.

Our new Research Data Officer, Eva Nueno Cobas, will start on May 23rd. Eva joins us from the School of Biological Sciences, and will be based in IF-3.26. Eva will support open access and mediated entry of publications in PURE.  Please continue to send acceptance notifications to or use the publication submission form, where Eva or Victoria will pick up your email.

Please also welcome Nina Abbott-Barish to the Finance Administration Team. Nina, who joined us this month from New York University where she was research billing manager and compliance liaison, will be looking after research and institute accounts and can be found in room 1.37.

Questions and comments on PURE, open access and REF are all welcome.

Contact the RDM team

Student news

System Design Project 2019

Photos from SDP 2019

The ‘Trade Fair’ for SDP took place on Friday 5th of April. 20 groups of year 3 students built a variety of assistive robot devices and designed suitable and effective interfaces.

The prizes awarded, listed below:

Photos from Extreme Pals Hackathon
Extreme Pals Hackathon
  • 1st Place (Amazon prize): "Goodboi" a shopping trolley that helps the visually impaired to navigate the supermarket
  • 2nd Place (Ossur prize): "Checkmate" plays chess in the real world
  • 3rd Place (KAL prize): "Growbot" waters your plants commended
  • Github prize - "Typeswipe" sorts recycling
  • People's Prize - "Roboreach" places and retrieves items from shelves
  • Robotical prize for Technical Innovation - "Spencer" carries your parcels up the stairs
  • Spiritus prize for Health and Wellbeing - "PapaDoc" guides patients to their appointments in hospitals (& commended in this category - "Pillip" dispenses and delivers pills)
  • Sky prize for Teamwork AND BDE prize for Entrepreneurship - "HalsPals" makes a standard switch a smart switch.

Hello World Hack

The first ‘Hello World Hack’ a 24 hour beginner hackathon organised by the Edinburgh University Women in STEM and the Programming Society took place 30-31st March. Industry sponsors included Bloomberg, RBS, CGG, The Institute of Physics and TeachFirst. During the event, workshops and mentors were on hand to help.

Extreme Pals Hackathon

InfPals hosted its first Extreme Pals workshop on 30th March. The daylong workshop aimed at beginners and was about making games in Java and using Git to manage their projects. The three participating teams created their own 2D platformer games based a small provided framework and showed off their impressive creations at the end of the day.

More about Extreme Pals Hackathon

Winners of Athena Hack
Athena Hack winners

Athena Hack Winners

ILCC PhD student Dilara Kekulluoglu, along with 4 other Edinburgh Students won the ‘best university team award’. Year 3, UG Informatics student Elena Lape, along with her team took 3rd place. Athena Hack took place 13th-14th April. The challenge was to create an idea that will help solve the plastic crisis that is currently plaguing the world in support of Plastic Oceans UK.


More about Athena Hack

SAC Award

Edinburgh Centre for Robotics CDT student, Siobhan Duncan, student from Edinburgh Centre was awarded first place prize for her work presented at the ‘ACM Symposium on Applied Computing - ACM SAC 2019’ for her research ‘Taking Stigmergy Out of the Lab and Into the Field’.

More about SAC 2019

Informatics ProgClub Competition

Photos from ProgClub competition
ProgClub competition

Winner of this year’s informatics ProgClub competition - 1st Stan Szcześniak and Michał Gliński , 2nd  Mateusz Parafiński  and 3rd Roy Eliya.

28 teams participated for a duration of 1 hour 15 minutes, who had to answer five programming questions. The event was organised by Hugh Leather, Pavlos Petoumenos and Volker Seeker together with two programming club demonstrators Mihai Enache and Tomasz Kosciuszko.

Ojasvi Jalal awarded Palantir’s Women in Technology Scholarship

Ojasvi Jalal, Year 3 is one of ten recipients, awarded the Palantir’s Women in Technology Scholarship (Europe) 2019. The purpose of the scholarship is to celebrate and support women who are beginning careers in technology.

More about Palantir's Women in Technology Scholarship

Around the School

School Leadership Team

From the next academic year (August 2019) new academic management structure will be implemented. It will include creation of the School Leadership Team - the ex officio members of Strategy Committee, and devolution of some line management of academic staff from the Head of School to a new Deputy Head of School role and to the Directors of the Research Institutes.

The other admin and management duties of those taking on line management responsibility will be adjusted accordingly.

More information will be provided at the School General Meeting on 23rd May.

The relevant paper discussed and agreed at the School’s Strategy Committee is now available on the InfWeb intranet.

Strategy Committee - 27 March 2019

School Strategy Plan

The School Strategy and Plan 2019-22 is now available on the School intranet. This comprises our ‘Strategic Framework’, which Jane covered in summary in her presentation to the recent staff general meeting, and our more detailed and operational outline planning submission to College. The latter took on a new format this year, following a standard template which reflects the University’s planning priorities. Any feedback to Jane or Martin is welcome. We will start the next planning round in September and again there will be the opportunity to contribute to the process.

Meantime, the University is refreshing its own Strategic Plan and all staff and students are invited to participate.

Strategy plan refresh 2019

Strategy & planning in Informatics

DoPs functional email address

A new functional email has been created for use by the SoI DoPS:

The intention is that all school related business should now be directed to this new address and not to Martin’s personal email address.  Please could you now start the new email address when in discussion with Martin on any school matters.  

Buildings mailing lists changes

We will shortly be closing the individual building mailing lists: "if-people", "at-people" and "bc-people". They have been replaced by one new mailing list that includes everyone related to Informatics accommodated in any of these buildings. This new list is called "inf-people" and is available now. Once the old lists are closed if anyone sends mail to them they will for the next six months get an automated response advising them that the list is closed and that they should use "inf-people" instead.


University Court in KB

University Court will be visiting KB on 29th April to engage with the College of Science and Engineering.  They will be making a visit to the School of Engineering but would also like to engage more broadly.  To facilitate this there will be a session at Murchison House which is open to all staff and students in the College at lunchtime that day.   Head of College has asked me to particularly encourage people from Informatics to take up this opportunity to get to know members of Court.  It is hoped that this engagement will help members of Court (who have influence in the University) to better understand the excellent work done in the College and the School.

The event will take place in Lecture Theatre G.26, Murchison House, starting at 12 noon and finishing at 1pm. Lunch will be available in the old entrance area of Murchison House from 1pm.

Attendees can reserve a place on MyEd.

Book a place on MyEd

Brexit update

For all of EU staff guidance on applying for the EU Settlement Scheme is available on University website, with a deadline for applications of 30 June 2021. The UK Government has clarified that EEA and Swiss nationals will have the same status as EU citizens and will need to apply for settled status.

EU Settlement Scheme

The University and Europe website

Vice-principal changes

Professor Jane Norman is heading to the University of Bristol to take up the role of Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor Charlie Jeffery will be the next Vice-Chancellor of the University of York.

Professor Colm Harmon takes over the role of a new Vice-Principal (Students). He will be joining from the University of Sydney at the start of October, and as a member of my Senior Leadership Team, will hold the strategic responsibility behind improving the student experience across the University.

Professor Harmon is currently Vice-Provost (Academic Performance) and Professor of Economics, University of Sydney. Professor Harmon has been at the University of Sydney since 2012, first as Head of the School of Economics and more recently as Vice-Provost. Prior to this his academic career was at University College Dublin, most latterly as Professor of Economics and Director of the Geary Institute.

Outreach and Public Engagement

Check out CSE PE group blog for more info.

CSE Public Engagement update

Policymaker engagement - Scottish Parliament inquiry into STEM

The Education and Skills Committee at the Scottish Parliament are exploring STEM experiences for 3-7 year olds, specifically: “The work will explore the extent to which STEM subjects are included in the learning experiences of those aged 3-7 and the impact that this has on young people including broadening their horizons, developing an interest in particular STEM disciplines and eventually leading to future careers [...] It will also look at the success of different STEM initiatives, including those supported by schools, businesses, science centres, etc. The Committee wants to hear about the barriers to success for these initiatives and also how best practice can be shared.”

Views from academics and practitioners are welcomed by Mon 13th May.

Call for views

Call for ideas/funding - Beltane Sparks, 13th June; deadline for applications: 10th May

Do you have an idea for engaging the public with your research but are looking for funding and collaborators to make it happen? Then, the inaugural Beltane Sparks programme could be for you.

Beltane Sparks aims to encourage the development of new two-way engagement partnerships between researchers (from PhD level onwards) from all four Edinburgh universities, as well as organisations and individuals beyond academia.

During the half-day workshop, attendees will be supported to come up with innovative public-engagement projects within cross-institution, multi-disciplinary teams. Teams will pitch their idea, Dragons-Den style, to a prestigious panel (inc. UKRI, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and WHALE Arts Agency) who will award funding to the winning team to pilot their idea.

Further details here:

Inaugural Ideas Programme - Beltane Sparks

Launching Beltane Sparks

Call for events/activities/ideas, Midlothian Science Festival, deadline: 13th May

This call is now open, and ideas for workshops, tours, talks are encouraged for this festival taking place 5th - 19th October. A series of family-friendly gala days will be organised offering opportunities to deliver drop-in interactive activities. For the more adventurous, priority will be given to events that have identified potential collaborative partners within Midlothian. The collaboration doesn't have to yet be active: festival organisers will be able to support the development of partnerships. Other festival priorities include engaging older children, teenagers and young adults, as well as delivering activities in more deprived and/or rural parts of Midlothian.

For further details, including information about participation fees

Submit your ideas for the festival

Call for participation - Dundee Science Festival, 5th-20th Oct, deadline: 2nd Aug

Now in its 10th year, the Dundee Science Festival has a core aim of reaching underserved audiences (60% of the public programme in 2018 engaged this target). There are several modes of engagement:

A: Dundee Science Centre weekend events

Drop-in activities and short talks on different themes as follows.

  • 5th-6th Oct - Design, Mechanics and Engineering
  • 12th-13th Oct - Space
  • 19th-20th Oct - Digital and Gaming

B: Science Adventures

Free family drop-in events in local community hubs to reduce barriers such as finance and transport. Dates: 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th Oct

C: Discussion Groups

30min talk plus Q+A in Dundee Science Centre. Flexibility in dates.

D: Evening Shows

Usually 30-40mins aimed at families. Possibility to collaborate with the festival organisers on show development. Dates: 10th and 17th Oct.

To offer ideas, please contact Tony Canning or the Dundee Science Festival main email address.

Contact Tony Canning

Contact the Dundee Science Festival

Call for collaboration - BBC Brainwaves / Centre for Open Learning 

Kirsty from the Centre for Open Learning is collaborating with BBC Radio Scotland on a series of public lectures, online learning modules, and a related radio programme. If you work in any of the following areas, or can suggest colleagues to contact, please get in touch with Kirsty Adamson.

Contact Kirsty Adamson

  • a) Technical updates to human performance (How tech is driving improvements in equipment [i.e. running blades, bikes, etc] and how tech is helping us push the human body ever further)
  • b) Faecel transplants / The science of faeces (What can we learn from our guts?)
  • c) Virtual reality - either VR as a learning tool, or VR for therapeutic applications
  • d) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (e.g. how does this change people's brains, why does it affect some people but not others)

Call for old laptops - support data-science engagement with young people

Areti Manataki (Centre for Medical Informatics) is developing public engagement activities with young people and as part of this she is looking for any type of old laptops that are still in working condition, no matter what operating system or brand. 

The plan is to erase everything on the machines (if not already wiped) and use them in science communication activities that involve coding and data science. Please note that machines owned by the University cannot be accepted, so it is only personal laptops that she is looking for.

If you can help, please email Areti to discuss further.

Contact Areti Manataki

List and feedback on training page

We now have a page listing training attended by staff, including a form to submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended. 

List and feedback on training (secured)

Mental health and well being

Informatics Staff and Students

If you feel that you are being mistreated at the University because of a factor such as gender, race, age, nationality, religion, sexuality, etc, you are welcome to confidentially contact the InfHR team in person (Informatics Forum room 5.39) or via email at any time.

Contact InfHR

You can also speak to Aileen McKie in the College Office.

The University has a number of HR policies, including the Dignity and Respect policy, and staff are encouraged to review these.

A to Z of HR policies

You can find information about mental health and wellbeing on the Informatics external website.

Mental health and wellbeing

Yoga in Informatics

From 4th March, we will have two yoga sessions every Monday led by yoga teacher, Kerry Ross, in G03.  The sessions will run 12:15-1:00 and 5:15-6:00.  There will be spaces for 16 participants at each session and places will be allocated on a first-come-first-serve, but participants must sign up in advance not just turn up at the session.  Each participant must bring along their own yoga mat.

To sign up participants should speak to Julie (or Aleks) on reception on Monday morning, and pay the £2 charge.  Sign up will be closed at 12:00.

Support for Physical Activity Programme (SPA)

If you would like to be more active, but feel as though you could use a little support and motivation, the Support for Physical Activity Programme (SPA) will help you build your confidence and get you started.

The SPA programme is a completely free service available to all students and staff of the university, and is now offering 1-1 consultations at Kings Buildings. At your first consultation we will have an informal chat, and set some manageable goals for you. You will have access to regular 1-1 catch ups to monitor and discuss your progress, and work through any difficulties or barriers you might be facing.

If you would like to book in for an appointment, simply contact Jocelyn and we will get you booked in for your first session!

Contact Jocelyn


Are you an organiser of a regular social event in Informatics and would like to add it to the list? Let Infcomms know!

Contact Infcomms

Informatics Open Artspace

When? Tuesdays, 6pm to 8pm

Where? At the tables in MF1

What? We will have materials for acrylic painting, lino cut and origami. If you have you own project to work on, you can bring it, too!

Everyone is welcome, just come by, hang out, make some art! 

Auld Alliance French Movie Club

There will be an update about the next event via the inf-general mailing list!

Guess who?

... who’s father (named Ted) was a professional square dance, contra dance and international folk dance caller and choreographer from Boston Massachusetts?

Surely they might take after their dad...!

Ted was also a pharmacist!

Best of inf-general

The Curtain Prison thread about the fire curtains stuck on level 5 blocking the only source of sunlight to the occupants of the area was an example of the best use of inf-general. Let us vent to fellow prisoners! Let us share the pain of being let down by the Estates department. Let us scream when it feels like e-mails sent to forum-issues are getting nowhere (they aren’t – there are people reading them and taking actions).

Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.


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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