Informatics Newsletter April 2020
Issue 34 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from Head of School
It always comes as a bit of a surprise to me that it is the end of the month and Kasia is reminding me to write something for the School Newsletter, but this month that is even more true than usual. Our new ways of working are beginning to feel a bit less unfamiliar but I still find them tiring and the week seem to go by quite quickly. For the School, it has been a busy month with lots of activity.The students are taking the first online exam this afternoon and many thanks to the teaching and ITO staff who have made this possible, and especially our new learning technologists Fiona Hale and Ross Ward. We have initiated plans for online teaching next semester. There are a number of Covid-19 research projects getting started and we have just conducted one of our largest programmes of academic recruitment, with eight interviews completed and two more to go. Thus there is a real mix of “business as usual” and activity in response to Covid-19, so no wonder it has been busy.
But I hope that everyone, like me, is starting to get used to this new way of life and establish new routines. Lockdown has brought a number of challenges but also some opportunities. I am lucky to be in isolation with my daughter who is a musician. In the last month, I have heard her play more than I had been able to do for quite a long time. I have also taken advantage of the quieter roads to re-establish my love of cycling. I bought a second-hand bike and I’m gradually trying to rebuild my fitness, especially as I live at the top of a hill, so it is always uphill to get home. I hope that others are also finding the opportunity for time away from the keyboard and the videoconference screen, whether it is starting a new activity or rediscovering an old one.
With best wishes,
Aba-Sah Dadzie started as a University Teacher in Data Visualization for the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computing on 23rd March
Carmen Constantin started as a research associate at the Laboratory for the Foundations fo Computer Science on 16th March
Floyd Chitalu started as a research associate at the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st April
Sanghyun Kim as a research associate at the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st April
Eugene Philalithis started as a research associate at the Artificial Intelligence and its Applications Institute on 1st April
James Scott-Brown started as a research associate at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 20th April
Len Newbrook started as Robotic laboratory manager for the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 2nd March
Fiona Hale started as a Learning Technologist on 23rd March
Ross Ward started as a Learning Technologist on 15th April
Professional Services Staff
Catherine McDonald started as a Senior Administrative Secretary for Speckled Computing on 31st March
Staying informed on University Covid-19 updates
University Covid-19 website: https://www.ed.ac.uk/news/covid-19
Keep checking University emails for more specific communications regarding how the University's response to the pandemic will affect you.
We have created a COVID-19 information Hub on the Infweb homepage for your convenience. Here you can find updates specific to the Informatics community including undergraduate students, postgraduate students and staff. There are also links to the central University guidance and advice relating to COVID-19.
Informatics Lockdown Bulletin
As you may have seen, the Communications team are producing a weekly Lockdown Bulletin including feel-good stories, recommendations for things to try in lockdown and information on Informatics social events. We are always on the hunt for content ideas, so if you have any suggestions please do get in touch!
The Appleton Tower face shield factory
Informatics technicians have been 3D printing over 100 face shields a day since the end of March in an attempt to help the NHS and Care Homes with an increasing shortage of personal protective equipment. They have been approved by the University as essential workers and currently work 7 days per week in 3 teams of 2 at a minimum, on a rota designed by Informatics Technical Services Manager, to ensure social distancing and hygiene guidelines. All technicians currently working volunteered for this task.
Students create a platform to connect mask-makers with healthcare workers
A group of students have constructed a platform connecting people who make masks with healthcare workers who do not have access to adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The project, named Maskshare, was borne out of shock at the lack of PPE available to healthcare workers across the UK, and determination to do something to help. The website facilitates the transportation of masks by connecting the people that make them to those that need them, such as NHS healthcare or care home workers.
University Reponse to Covid-19 site
The University have produced a dedicated site for all of the positive work staff, students and alumni are doing in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes research into possible treatments, different perspectives on the sociological and economic impact of the pandemic, and resources to help with working and studyng from home. If you are interested in finding out how people are responding to the virus across the University community, this is a great source of information.
This website is updated regularly with new stories, so if you are involved with any work in response to the pandemic, get in touch with Communications and Marketing. No story is too small!
New podcast 'Edinburgh: Space Data Capital'
An exciting new podcast explores how Edinburgh is blasting its way to becoming the space data capital of Europe. Hosted by Dr Murray Collins and journalist Kim McAllister, the podcast interviews professors, business leaders and student to share their work on space and satellite technology in Edinburgh and beyond. The podcast is produced in association with Picture Zero, and supproted by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Young Academy of Scotland and Space Intelligence.
Research Services updates
While the REF2021 submission has been postponed, Open access policies remain unchanged throughout the current COVID-19 situation, and the expectation is that accepted manuscripts are deposited in Pure within three months of the date of acceptance. If there are concerns about meeting Open Access deadlines, please contact Victoria and Sam on firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be happy to advise.
As always, please continue to send details of recently accepted papers and open access questions, and Victoria or Sam will respond to your query.
Changes to University Covid-19 FAQs site
Central administration recently made some structural changes to their Covid-19 FAQs for students page. These FAQs have been separated into four sections to make it easier for you to find specific advice and guidance:
- Current student homepage - this page contains information on University advice and support; services and wellbeing; accommodation; visa support and graduations
- Assessments and exams
- Study and work placements
- Postgraduate research students
Students taking exams this semester have been emailed with the updated exam guidance that can be found on the Assessment and exams page. You can also find further advice and support on how to prepare for these exams while taking care of your health and wellbeing.
SDP Trade Fair Final Replaced by Online Showcase
Not even a global pandemic could stop the final of the System Design Project. This year the Trade Fair where third-year students usually exhibit their group projects was swapped for an online showcase. Each group presented their work in the form of a promotional website, which external judges and Informatics staff and students will be able to look at, comment on, ask questions about and pick their favourites on Friday 10th April. ReminDoor, a smart lock and reminder system took first prize, with Louis the Braillant Assistant and the Omni-opener automated multifunctional tool taking second and third places respectively. Congratulations to all of this year's winners, as well and all the students that took part in this year's SDP final. All of the projects showed great creativity and innovation, and the students should be very proud of what they managed to achieve under difficult circumstances.
Connect and study with other Informatics students using virtual study rooms
Struggling to motivate yourself at home? Why not try Informatics virtual study rooms!
Informatics students Haobo Yang and Zhihang Yuan (with Haolin Yang, University of Toronto) have organised virtual study spaces to connect Edinburgh Informatics students globally and facilitate study through accountability and encouragement from peers. There are two options for joining the study rooms:
1. Microsoft Teams – connect and meet with students through the link below
2. WeChat and Zoom – connect with students through WeChat (QR code on right), where you will find instructions for joining study spaces on Zoom.
Student Societies donate to the Turing Trust
Two Informatics-based societies have been able to donate to the Turing Trust, a charity that supports education in sub-Saharan Africa by reusing computers and improving teacher training using ICT. Hoppers have been able to donate just over £300 and CompSoc are intending to send £1,000, to support both the SigINT and Hack the burgh events. Both had hoped to raise more however various events and activities were cancelled.
Informatics student on BBC's the Great British Sewing Bee
Alex Shepherd, Cognitive Science student is on BBC's The Great British Sewing Bee. He is the youngest competitor at just 24, and learned to sew as a teenager after he asked his mum, “Teach me your ways; Oh Jedi!”. The Great British Sweing Bee airs every Wednesday at 9pm on BBC1.
Three Minute Thesis Goes Online for 2020
Due to the current Covid-19 pandemic theThree Minute Thesis Competition is not possible in its current face to face format, therefore this year’s competition will take place online. Participants will record and submit a video entry, then each College will select three finalists to go forward to the University final on the 25th June 2020.
Three Informatics Staff Shortlisted in the 2020 Teaching Awards
This year's Teaching Awards saw over thirty academics and courses from Informatics nominated, with three of the nominees making the shortlist: Pavlos Andreadis, in Supervisor of the Year; Iain Murray, in Teacher of the Year; and Phillip Wadler's 'Types and Semantics for Programming Languages', in Outstanding Course. Many of our staff are nominated regularly and have won in the past, for instance Iain Murray won the Van Heyningen Award for Teaching in Science and Engineering in 2015. Staff are also often nominated in multiple categories, such as Philip Wadler who was nominated for both Teacher of the Year and Outstanding Course, or Ian Stark who was nominated for Supervisor of the Year, Outstanding Feedback, and Teacher of the Year. It is great to see our staff be appreciated for the consistent quality of excellence they maintain in their teaching.
Bulletin magazine for Staff goes Online
The University magazine for staff, Bulletin, has moved online and is now being published as a weekly blog. Bulletin plays a really important part in keeping us connected with the wider University community, sharing stories and maintaining our sense of solidarity during this strange time. There are lots of different stories featured in Bulletin each week, from celebrating the winners of the University’s Sustainability Awards to top tips on how to get creative from home.
Staff from across the University are encouraged to get in touch if they have an idea for a feature, or would like to write one themselves! Some stories will also be shared on the University's social media accounts. If you have a story to tell get in touch with Charlotte, the editor of Bulletin, for a chat.
Informatics alumnus featured in University podcast
The latest episode of Sharing Things podcast, produced by the University of Edinburgh Alumni department, features Informatics alumnus Rachel Weiss as one of its guests. Rachel graduated from the University in 1990 with and MSc in Knowledge-Based Systems before training as a teacher, gaining a diploma in counselling, founding a business offering counselling, and training in workplace meditation and leadership training. Most recently she has founded the charity Menopause Cafe, which aims to open up a dialogue and normalise discussions of this often silenced phase of life. In the podcast Rachel is joined on the podcast by Ellen Blunsdon, fourth-year History and Politics student and the current Disabled Students' Officer.
E-voting protocol developed by Myrto Arapinis' team to be used in Cross-university Election Experiment
Reader in Computer Security Myrto Arapinis has led a team to develop a self-tallying e-voting protocol, named E-cclesia, which is being implemented on the TEZOS blockchain in an international cross-university election experiment run by the Electis foundation. The aim of the experiment is to build and test a platform that connects universities and gives them the ability to organise cross-university votes. The project is powered by the TEZOS network and run by Electis, a community-based, not-for-profit organisation committed to developing technology that strengthens democracy through safe, transparent and accessible e-voting solutions.
Myrto is joined on the project by a number of researchers and alumni from the School of Informatics: Nikolaos Lamprou, Thomas Zacharias, Lenka Marekova, and Ivaylo Genev. Nikoloas is a postgraduate research student in LFCS currently working on the E-cclesia protocol as part of his PhD, while Thomas is a senior researcher in the LFCS security and privacy group and is also working on this project. Lenka, who completed her undergraduate degree at Edinburgh, worked on a previous version of the scheme as her Honours project. Former Informatics student Ivaylo Genev is the lead developer on the cross-university election experiment, and completed his integrated BA and Masters with Myrto as his supervisor.
Ram working on Trustworthy Control Synthesis project
Ram Ramamoorthy from the Robust Autonomy and Decisions Group has received a £163K grant from the National Physical Laboratory in the form of a Metrology Fellowship, entitled Trustworthy Control Synthesis. The focus of this work is on exploring methods for guiding controller synthesis and robot learning with qualitative information regarding structure, and to explore uncertainty quantification with such structured models and policies. Researchers hope to be able to illustrate the utility of these ideas within their sAIfer surgery testbed for surgically assistive robots.
David Aspinall gets funding for AISEC: AI Secure and Explainable by Construction
David Aspinall and colleagues from Edinburgh School of Law and Strathclyde and Heriot-Watt Universities received £807,165 from EPSRC to work on their project AISEC: AI Secure and Explainable by Construction. Ekaterina Komendantskaya from HW leads the project. While AI applications - from mobile phones and home appliances to stock markets, autonomous cars, robots, and drones - become more and more widely used by the society, their use creates a need for adjusting requirements such as legal policies, safety and security standards, company values, or simply public perception. AISEC aims to build a sustainable, general purpose, and multidomain methodology and development environment for policy-to-property secure and explainable by construction development of complex AI systems. The project will produce an integrated development environment with infrastructure to cater for different domain experts: from lawyers and security experts to verification experts and system engineers designing complex AI systems. AISEC will be built, tested and used in collaboration with industrial partners in two key AI application areas: autonomous vehicles and natural language interfaces. This large project will connect to another new project which has started April 2020, called "CONVENER: Continuous Verification of Neural Networks" funded by the VeTSS research institute (https://vetss.org.uk/) on which Komendantskaya and Aspinall are the investigators.
99Clouds Inc funds research into AI framework for edge computing
Mike Ji, Dave Robertson and Mahesh K. Marina received £404,018 of industrial funding from 99Clouds Inc for their project Intelligent edge platform and federated AI edge architecture and system. 5G is taking off rapidly in the world. It is expected to change all aspects of our communities. However, building an end2end AI system for 5G based edge-computing is yet a big system-level challenge. The difficulties are much more than simply deploying a set of AI models in current clouds. When various IoT nodes move across the edges, e.g., self-driving car, or smart traffic/mobility/city, the fast changing dynamic, faulty and asynchronous environment becomes a big concern and hence becomes a hot research topic. The goal of this project is to investigate key technologies that will enable a robust and highly efficient distributed/federated AI framework that is vital for the edge-computing. In this project, foundational research aiming to generate a common Federation-AI-Architecture will be performed. Researchers will investigate and design cutting-edge algorithms that can be efficiently applicable to general distributed inference models that are to be deployed seamlessly in the edge data centres.
Barbara Webb will work on unravelling the navigation system of a dung beetle
Barbara Webb will be collaborating with colleagues at Lund University on a Horizon 2020 project that received £151,139 funding. The project is called Ultimate compass: unravelling the navigation system of a dung beetle. Many navigating animals use cues in the sky (e.g. the sun, polarisation, colour gradients) to help find their way. Studying this behaviour in the dung beetle - which has also been shown to use night-sky cues including the moon and the milky way - provides the opportunity to analyse this capability at multiple levels: ecology, sensory physics, neural processing and motor control. As a collaborator on this ERC grant (led by Marie Dacke at Lund University), Barbara Webb will develop computational models of the beetle's brain processes, and implement these on robots that can be tested in the natural habitat of the beetle. Ultimately, this work addresses a key issue for cognition and artificial intelligence, how to integrate multiple cues of variable reliability to make good behavioural decisions.
Paper on Programming Language Foundations in Agda book published
Wen Kokke and Philip Wadler (with Jeremy Siek) have a paper in Science of Computer Programming on their Programming Language Foundations in Agda online book. This paper has been previously presented at SBMF (Brazilian Symposium on Formal Methods) in 2018 where it won the best paper award. Programming Language Foundations in Agda is an executable textbook, based on the proof assistant Agda. The first half of the textbook is an introduction to Agda, and the second half is an introduction to programming languages. Using a proof assistant such as Agda means that students get immediate feedback. The textbook is freely available online with a CC-BY license.
Book available from: plfa.inf.ed.ac.uk
Wen Kokke, Jeremy G. Siek, Philip Wadler, Programming language foundations in Agda, Science of Computer Programming, Volume 194, 2020, 102440, ISSN 0167-6423, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scico.2020.102440. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167642320300502
Privacy in IoT data sharing project
Rik Sarkar is working on a new project Local privacy in sensor data sharing through geometric perturbations. Data from IoT and sensor devices can be used for large scale optimisation and planning. However, publishing or sharing such data risks revealing private, sensitive information. As a result, access to such data is restricted, which impedes research, infrastructure development, urban planning etc. The ultimate aim of the project is to enable sharing data from sensor and IoT devices, without compromising the privacy of sensitive information. The project will produce a suite of statistical algorithms that process data from sensor and IoT devices to guarantee that the data will remain useful for large scale machine learning and pattern recognition, and when published, will not leak significant sensitive information. The privacy protection will be enforced through differential privacy and similar statistical methods. The benefit of the project is that it will enable sharing and publishing of IoT data with strong guarantees of privacy. This will enable greater research and applications of such data.
Outreach and Public Engagement
For latest opportunities please check CSE PE blog for more info.
Call for Applications - Data-Driven Innovation Small Grant Funding, rolling deadlines
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Data-Driven Innovation initiative has allocated funding for projects in the range of £1k to £25k that enable staff and students to practically apply data-driven innovation ideas in support of communities, services and businesses in Edinburgh and the South-East Scotland region. Funded projects are expected to start immediately on allocation of funding over the next 3-4 months.
The Bayes Centre is providing support for CSE-based applications by assisting the identification of suitable project partners and establishing links.
Call for Applications - Green Gown Awards, 3rd June
Established in 2004, the Green Gown Awards aim to recognise the fantastic sustainability initiatives undertaken by staff and students in universities and colleges. With various sub-categories among the awards - from Benefitting Society through to Next Generation Learning and Skills - there are several possibilities for public and/or community engagement projects to be recognised by this awards process.
Call for student tutors - Coronavirus Tutoring Initiative
When the UK government announced the closure of all schools in the country, a team of students started an online platform to connect university students with secondary school pupils and facilitate their continued education, for free. University students give a couple of hours per week to tutor these children, helping to redress the disparity in education between children who can afford to access private tutoring, and those who cannot. Tutors can help with any pre-GCSE, GCSE or A-level subject, depending on their own educational experiences. The project also shows a commitment to Scottish students and the Scottish education system.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Coronavirus Tutoring Initiative, go to their website to find out more.
Calls for donations/ volunteers - Edinburgh Local
Edinburgh Local has published general advice for staff/students/community partners regarding community volunteering (see link below).
Also, our Community Engagement colleagues are coordinating responses from the University towards a variety of needs in the local area, including:
- Donations of wearable around-the-house clothes for Streetwork
- Donations of personally owned tablets/laptops (or other IT) for local at-risk young people
- Volunteers to support community organisations in answering phones / making food deliveries
- Volunteers to help teach people how to use a tablet/smartphone (on a 1:1, likely remote, basis)
- Volunteers for befriending projects with children, young people and adults through People Know How
Contact Edinburgh Local if you are able to support/contribute to points 1-4; for point 5, then go to the People Know How website.
Update: Call for contributors - I'm a Scientist / Engineer, Stay at Home, 30th Apr
Across the UK, school students’ education has been disrupted, classes are split up and science teachers are tasked with providing remote activities. Help pupils stay connected with STEM, their teachers and their classmates using the I’m a Scientist & I’m an Engineer Stay at Home online STEM engagement activities. From 20th April, through a text-based format, answer questions about science / engineering and working in STEM, chat with teachers and pupils, and build your public engagement experience.
Update: Call for contributors - Great Science Share for Schools, 16th Jun; info webinars 7th May
This annual campaign to inspire young people by sharing their scientific questions with new audiences is moving online this year on Tues 16th June, with weekly themes happening every week from 4th May. If you would like to be involved, then you should register with the organisers.
There is also a chance to hear from the campaign director about the launch and how you can get involved in two webinars on 7th May (10-11am / 6-7pm).
Staff Training Courses
Working remotely - training and guidance
The University has training and guidance to help staff adjust to working from home more effectively:
- Tools for remote working, including links to online training and guidance
- Off-site working guidance
- Digital Safety and Citizenship
- Digital Skills Framework - evaluate, plan and develop your digital skills and find a range of learning resources here
Encouraging Engagement - Three things managers can do:
- Encourage your staff to complete at least two digital skills development activities (each year)
- Talk about, and plan, digital skills development as part of annual development reviews
- Create a training plan (use the ADR template) for all your staff to develop their skills, for now and the future, and to help with sense of purpose and morale.
We now have a page listing training courses attended by staff. You can submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended.
Informatics Social Events
We are using the weekly Lockdown Bulletin to keep everyone informed of virtual social events happening in Informatics. Keep an eye on your emails to find out how you can get involved!
Best of InfGeneral
This month the best of inf-general award goes to Volker Seeker for introducing us to this great website:
Keep in Touch
For all the latest news, keep an eye on our website and social media channels!
The newsletter is produced by the Communications team.
If you have any questions or comments please get in touch!