Informatics Newsletter April 2021
Issue 44 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from the Head of School
As the academic year approaches its close, teaching is coming to an end. With this comes a new focus on assessment — handing in assignments and sitting exams for students and marking and the Boards of Examiners for staff. This year everyone is feeling quite weary after a long year of working under difficult circumstances and it can feel difficult to find the final reserves of energy to get through these last challenges of the year. Hopefully the brighter, warmer weather, coupled with the Scottish Government relaxation of Covid restrictions will give everyone things to look forward to and the impetus to finish off the academic year.
The closing of the academic year also brings round the annual awards. This month I attended the EUSA Student Awards. These are based on nominations from the University community in recognition of students who go above and beyond what might be expected in supporting fellow students, reaching out into the community or helping the University more broadly. It was great to see a number of Informatics students nominated including Sarah Lappin for her work in the Women in STEM Society and the Scratch from Scratch group that run Scratch workshops for schools, and Michael Andrejczuk was one of the winners on the night for his work supporting fellow students. Next month it will be the turn of the academic and teaching related staff with the EUSA Teaching Awards. I know that there are a number of nominations for Informatics staff across all categories. Well done to everyone who has been nominated — we will publish a complete list in the next newsletter.
For those students who will be graduating this year, I know that it has been a very disappointing year with both your studies and your social lives severely impacted by the Covid restrictions. Knowing that many of you returned to Edinburgh because of the deep affection in which you hold the city, and others were disappointed that you could not do so, the University has recently announced that it will be holding an online graduation event on 22nd July, and an opportunity to collect your degree certificate in person and have a gowned photo opportunity in the week beginning 5th July. We are still in the planning stage of how we will mark the occasion in Informatics, so if you have any ideas or suggestions please do get in touch with me or Neil Heatley.
Best wishes to everyone for the final stages of the academic year - good luck to students with your final assessments and exams, and my thanks to all staff for your continued efforts to support our students through to the end of their studies for the year.
With best wishes,
Michele Ciampi started as Chancellor's Fellow in the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 1st April
Uma Zalakain started as a research assistant with the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 1st April
Tadeg Quillien started as a research associate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st April
Martin Asenov started as a research associate with the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st April
Florentin Rochet started as a research associate with the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 1st April
Robert Wright started as a research assistant with the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 1st April
Leona Sutton started as a research associate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 7th April
Josh Hosking started as a research associate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 12th April
Informatics Buildings re-opening Update
Over the next few months,, we are going through a period where, if things go to plan, lockdown is easing and we have a framework from the Scottish Government (see below for links) and that indicates we will move out of lockdown on 26 April and into Level 3; we will move to Level 2 on 17 May, and can expect to move to Level 1 in early June and Level 0 by the end of June 2021.
Most of the guidance/framework from the Scottish Government is subject to the provision of more detailed information but there are a number of key points which are worth highlighting:
- Indoor capacity in all settings is subject to the relevant physical distancing requirements for all Levels;
- Universities move from ‘restricted blended’ to ‘blended’ learning and teaching as we enter Level 2 and that applies in Levels 1 and 0;
- ‘Work from home’ where possible is the position in Levels 4-1; and
- ‘Work from home remains the default but phased return to offices can begin under Level 0.
We have updated our Covid-19 information on the intranet to provide more information on what each stage means for access to our buildings and our gradual return to campus. We will provide more information at the school general meeting on 6 May.
Student survey by Conscious Change
Conscious Change is a student-run social enterprise based at the University of Edinburgh that aims to make sustainable living the mainstream. The team have put together a 5-minute survey to investigate the most recurrent difficulties University of Edinburgh students face when trying to live more sustainably in Edinburgh. The results of the survey will be used to find new ways for Conscious Change to work with the Unviersity and the Council to implement effective change. Survey participants can also opt in to a voucher draw of up to £50.
Royal Society honours Informatics Professors Aggelos Kiayias and Chris Williams
The Royal Society of Edinburgh has made School of Informatics Professors Aggelos Kiayias and Chris Williams fellows of the prestigious organisation. Aggelos and Chris are two of the 19 University of Edinburgh academics included in the latest round of new Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) fellows, joining the current roll of around 1,600 leading thinkers and practitioners from Scotland and beyond. RSE fellows are chosen for their work which has had a significant impact on the nation.
The 2021 cohort includes many academics who the RSE deemed to have made a positive impact during the global Covid-19 pandemic – either as a result of their academic research, through their contribution to arts or for the role they have played in communicating complex information with the public. Those elected to the Fellowship undergo a rigorous assessment of their achievements, professional standing and the contribution they and their work make to wider society.
Success for Informatics students at the EUSA Student Awards
The Sense of Belonging Award was presented to undergraduate student Michael Andrejczuk and the University's Women in STEM society, whose president is Informatics student Sarah Lappin.
Michael won the Sense of Belonging Award for his work helping first-year students settle into the School and connect with one another, despite the physical distance between them. His presence in a Discord server created for first-year Informatics students was instrumental to creating a sense of community and providing new students with a way to connect with peers, both in their own year and in higher years. Michael has been very dedicated to welcoming the new students, having been active in the Discord group all year providing advice and support whenever needed.
Informatics researchers use smart meters to revolutionise independent living for people with disabilities and older people
The Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project is a ground-breaking trial led by Dr. Lynda Webb which looks into the energy usage patterns of people with disabilities and older people living independently. Smart meters and associated technologies are being used to monitor for health-related incidents around the home as part of a ground-breaking new trial led by School of Informatics' Dr. Lynda Webb, in partnership with innovative housing and care specialist Blackwood Homes and Care, and Scottish Innovation Centre, The Data Lab.
The revolutionary Smart Meters for Independent Living (SMILE) project will see the consortium develop and test machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) methods to analyse energy usage data from consenting residents’ smart meters, creating a view of their daily routines and spotting unusual changes in behaviour which could cause concern.
Research Data Management
Open Access requirements
The April 2021 Open Access check is currently underway. If you haven’t already done so, please complete the April Publications Check form by Friday, 30 April.
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.
Performance and Development Reviews
The Performance and Development Review (PDR) is mandatory for all University Staff. InfHR have been busy sending out emails to all staff outlining the deadline date for submitting signed paperwork back to InfHR – 31st July 2021.
We understand the challenges faced in finding time to have quality conversations and therefore have updated our webpage with some useful tips for appraisers:
If you have not received an email from InfHR, and you are not exempt from carrying out a PDR, please get in touch.
Undergraduate students to present winning app at Google’s Demo Derby Week
Following their win at Hack 4 the People George Karabassis, Eve Bogomil and Adrien Zier will present their “personal face mask consultant” app at the Google Cloud Demo Derby Week. George, Eve and Adrien came up with the idea for their app while competing in Hack 4 the People hackathon last August. MaskIt is a mobile app that provides all the information you could want when it comes to face masks, from the type of mask you should wear for different physical activities to the optimum length of time you should wear your mask for.
Oisin Mac Aodha and the iNaturalist dataset
Lecturer in Machine Learning Oisin Mac Aodha is one of the founding researchers of iNaturalist, an app and dataset that helps users identify the plants and animals of the world. Oisin has been working on the Amazon Machine Learning Research Award-winning project for the last five years, in collaboration with Grant Van Horn of Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The two researchers began hosting competitions using iNaturalist data at the annual conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition (CVPR), where participants were presented with a dataset and had to rank entries based on the accuracy of their classification. The winning team is the one that generates the lowest error rate. Today both the competition and iNaturalist are part of Open Data on Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Amazon Science recently wrote an article exploring the iNaturalist dataset, the opportunities presented by having such a wealth of information in one place and the challenges for computer vision and machine learning.
Barbara Webb awarded five-year EPSRC Advanced Career Fellowship
Barbara Webb has been awarded a five-year EPSRC Advanced Career Fellowship worth over £2M to study AI insect-inspired approaches to robot grasping. The current inability of robots to grasp diverse objects with efficiency and reliability severely limits their range of application. Agriculture, mining and environmental clean-up are just three examples where - unlike a factory - the items to be handled could have a huge variety of shapes and appearances, need to be identified amongst clutter, and need to be grasped firmly for transport while avoiding damage. Secure grasp of unknown objects amongst clutter remains an unsolved problem for robotics, despite improvements in 3D sensing and reconstruction, in manipulator sophistication and the recent use of large-scale machine learning.
Alan Bundy and Jeff Pan awarded Huawei funding for TREAT project
Alan Bundy and Jeff Pan have been awarded £200K from Huawei for their new three-year project Multi-source knowledge reasoning for completeness and continuous enrichment or TREAT (Tacit Rules Extracted And Transformed). TREAT’s objective is to construct a never-ending system that automatically constructs a model of Huawei’s 5G Network from system logs. PDRA Xue Li and PhD students Sylvia Wang and Ricky Zhu will work on the project alongside the PIs. The project will use Jeff and Sylvia’s prior work on knowledge graph completion to extract tacit rules from the logs. Since tacit rules can contain errors, Ricky will use probabilistic logic to assign and propagate uncertainty and Xue will use her ABC System to repair faulty representations.
Sethu Vijayakumar secures two new Joint Industry Projects with HONDA and Kawada
In two new projects working alongside Honda Research Institute and Kawada Robotics Corporation, Professor Sethu Vijayakumar and his team will focus on enhancing and improving the human-robot interaction while also looking at the issues faced by an ageing society, addressing the question of how robots can assist healthcare professionals in their day to day work. The project in partnership with Honda is entitled, Co-bots and Exoskeletons for Assisted Living with Ergonomic Measures, and will explore how robotics can provide solutions to preserving the mobility and independence of our ageing population. The Kawada project is entitled, Interactive Collision-Free Bi-Manual Manipulation; the team aims to develop enhanced, robust capabilities on Kawada's NextageA Research Platform.
Vesselin Velichkov in the final of NIST standardisation process with SPARKLE
Vesselin Velichkov is a co-designer (with partners at the University of Luxembourg and INRIA, Paris) of the algorithm SPARKLE, shortlisted in the standardisation process for new lightweight cryptographic algorithms organised by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). From 56 submissions, 10 have been shortlisted after two years of public evaluation.
SPARKLE is a family of algorithms that provides confidentiality (via encryption) and integrity protection (via hashing) of data stored or processed on very small electronic devices, such as RFID tags used in retail logistics, product tracking, and counterfeit protection. Another example is the Internet-of-Things (IoT) which is composed of networks of small nodes communicating to each other within the context of a smart city, smart home, etc. All such devices have very limited computational resources. As a result it is not always possible to deploy on them existing cryptographic algorithms such as e.g. the Advanced Encryption Standard. All selected 10 finalists in the NIST competition solve this problem by proposing efficient solutions for such resource-constrained applications. The SPARKLE family of algorithms, in particular, outperforms other algorithms on some platforms such as e.g. the ARM Cortex-M0 and ARM Cortex-M4 micro-controllers -- both widely used in IoT applications.
NIST standardisation process is planned to end in the first quarter of 2022. The final outcome will be a new international standard or a portfolio of standards for lightweight encryption and hashing, selected among the 10 finalists.
Two ICSA papers win distinguished awards at ASPLOS 2021
Two papers presented by researchers in the School's Institute for Computing Systems Architecture (ICSA) have won awards at ASPLOS 2021, the premier forum for interdisciplinary systems research, intersecting computer architecture, hardware and emerging technologies, programming languages and compilers, operating systems, and networking. Jack Turner, Elliot Crowley and Mike O'Boyle's paper “Neural Architecture Search as Program Transformation Exploration” has received a Distinguished Paper Award, and “Benchmarking, Analysis, and Optimization of Serverless Function Snapshots” by Dmitri Ustiugov, Plamen Petrov, Boris Grot and external collaborators has received a Distinguished Artifact Award. The 26th edition of ASPLOS, presented by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), took place between 12th and 23rd April this year and took a virtual format.
Vaishak Belle to co-organise Dagstuhl seminar on trustworthiness and responsibility in AI
Vaishak Belle is a co-organiser of the Dagstuhl Seminar entitled, Trustworthiness and Responsibility in AI - Integrating Causality, Machine Learning. The seminar seeks to quetions the trustworthiness of autonomous computer-based systems, as they are increasingly being deployed in safety-critical environments while interoperating with humans. This Dagstuhl Seminar will bring together an interdisciplinary group of researchers from Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), Robotics (ROB), hardware and software verification (VER), Software Engineering (SE) and Social Sciences (SS), who can provide different and complementary perspectives on responsibility and correctness regarding the design of algorithms, interfaces, and development methodologies in AI.
The purpose of the seminar will be to initiate a debate around both theoretical foundations and practical methodologies for a "Trustworthiness & Responsibility in AI" framework, that integrates quantifiable responsibility and verifiable correctness into all stages of the software engineering process. Such a framework will allow governance and regulatory practises to be viewed not only as rules and regulations imposed from afar but instead as an integrative process of dialogue and discovery to understand why an autonomous system might fail and how to help designers and regulators address these through proactive governance.
Centre for Technomoral Futures launch event - 29th April
Edinburgh Futures Institute will launch their new Centre for Technomoral Futures at a public event on Thursday 29th April, 5:00 - 6:30pm. The launch event, 'A Conversation on Technomoral Futures: Building Wisdom from Crisis', will consist of talks and discussion around the theme of how technical and moral intelligence can be brought together to lead us out of crisis. Leaders, creators and innovators from academia, technology, business and the third sector are invited to connect and engage with the possible futures we can build in Scotland and the world as we merge from the most challenging years of the century. The event will alsdo introduce the Centre's first year interdisciplinary PhD students and share the Centre's mission to bridge the divide between technical expertise and moral wisdom.
womENcourage 22-24th September (closest deadline 1st May)
The 8th celebration of Women in Computing by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) will take place virtually 22-24 September 2021, coordinated from Prague, Czech Republic. womENcourage was initiated by the ACM Women Europe (ACM-W Europe) committee with the aim of connecting women from diverse technical disciplines and encouraging them to pursue their education and career in computing. Bringing together undergraduate and graduate students, researchers, academics, and engineers from Europe and beyond, the event provides women with a space in which to present and share their achievements and experiences, and discuss pressing issues for women in the computing profession.
The slogan for this year's event is, "Bridging Communities to Foster Innovation". In an increasingly technology-driven world and a rapidly changing economic environment, computing field’s innovation and creativity cannot be cherished to its full potential if it is formed by homogeneous expertise, represented unevenly only by a fraction of the population. To foster innovation, we shall stop compartmentalizing scientific progress by disciplines, and encourage innovation across boundaries.
Although the event itself is not until September there are a couple of deadlines approaching, including poster abstract and workshops and tutorials submissions on 1st May. Head to the event website to find out how you can get involved.
Outreach and Public Engagement
If you have participated in an outreach and public engagement activity in the last six months, please make sure it has been recorded by the Comms team in the directory below.
If you need to add an entry, would like to get involved in a public engagement activity or promote an opportunity that you are aware of, please use the webform below.
For latest opportunities please check CSE PE blog for more info.
Call for contributors - Global Science Show, biodiversity/natural world, 21st May
This Twitter-based science engagement show returns on 21st May with a focus on biodiversity and the natural world. Between 9am and 9pm posts will be made from contributors across the globe: you could be an experienced science communicator, or this could be your first attempt, everything is considered. Contributors will be allocated a 10-minute timeslot, but you do not need to supply 10 minutes of content. Videos, tweet threads, images, and more, are warmly welcomed.
Call for entries - #BiofilmAware Photography Competitions, deadline: 31st May
The National Biofilms Innovation Centre is running two photography competitions in relation to its #BiofilmAware campaign, which seeks to highlight the societal and economic impacts of biofilms. (A biofilm is a collection of single-celled organisms that live together in a group structure: examples of biofilms can be viewed below, including dental plaque on teeth...) Anyone can enter Biofilms in Real Life, while the Biofilms in the Lab competition is only open to researchers/scientists. The top prize for each is a £500 Amazon gift card.
Further entry details can be found on the competitions' webpage; the deadline is 31st May.
Call for women of colour - Pass the Mic, list of Scottish experts for media/events
Women of colour are underrepresented in events and mainstream media in all sorts of disciplines. To address the issue of women of colour being invited for event and media appearances, Pass the Mic is curating a growing list of people in Scotland who have the personal/professional experiences and expertise relevant to a range of topics. The current pool of people can be found on the Find the Experts page.
There is still a need to grow this list further. If you are a woman of colour and wish to add your name to the list, you can register through the Join the Expert List page. Being an 'expert' is not just for those with specific academic qualifications: personal experience is a valuable form of expertise too.
Calls for evidence / inputs - policymaker engagement
Amongst the live calls/inquiries that the policymakers across the UK have announced in the past week, the following may be of interest to colleagues in the CSE:
The following calls are closing soon:
- Scottish Government, Consultation, Heat in buildings strategy, deadline: 30th April
- Scottish Government, Consultation, Skills requirements for energy efficiency in buildings, deadline: 30th April
- Scottish Government, Consultation, Low Carbon Infrastructure Transition Programme, deadline: 30th April
- Northern Ireland Executive, Consultation, Scoping a new forestry plan for forests/woodland in Armagh, deadline: 30th April
If you would like to access a complete list of all live policymaker calls from across the UK, then the simplest way is to sign-up to news from SPRE's The Brokerage.
Call for researchers / Funding - Ideas Fund projects-in-development (application deadline: 14th May)
As previously stated, The Ideas Fund is a new grants programme run by the British Science Association and funded by Wellcome, which focuses on enabling UK communities to develop and try out ideas that address problems related to mental wellbeing. With project ideas now flowing, there are many opportunities for researchers from a diverse variety of disciplines (e.g. outdoor play / role of gaelic / role of dance / role of music / peri- and post-natal mental health / and more) to collaborate with different communities.
Grants of up to £90k are on offer to communities in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, Hull, North West Northern Ireland, and Oldham. If you've not explored the fund already, the Ideas Fund for Researchers page shares key background information through summary sheets and webinar recordings. Previous webinars have focused on the issue of potential power imbalances in community-researcher collaborations, especially those involving marginalised groups.
There are many projects-in-development in the Highlands and Islands region, which are looking to connect with researchers to support their nascent plans. Brief 'titles' can be found in the Community Themes Developing Padlet, which lists the possible projects by theme: Connectedness; Nature; Equalities; Arts, Sports and Culture; Learning and Work; Health. More possibilities are regularly being added. If you are interested in potentially collaborating with the communities behind any of the ideas in the Padlet, then please contact Lewis Hou, Development Coordinator, in the first instance and include which idea(s) you feel you could be involved with.
Reminder: Call for contributors - Young Gifted and STEM
Young Gifted and STEM was founded to enhance the experiences of young black and ethnic minority people with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths education. The group is currently looking for amazing people to help deliver interactive online sessions for young people (11-18 years old) on Saturdays. The first session is planned for 24th Apr.
There is an MS Forms link to register your interest in being involved. An alternative way to reach the group is through the Young Gifted and STEM Twitter account.
Reminder: Call for contributors - Minorities in STEM Twitter Account
The Minorities in STEM Twitter account is run by a new person each week, and aims to promote/support ethnic minority individuals who are studying and working in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). They are always on the look-out for new people to takeover the account to reflect on their involvement in STEM; how their identities have influenced their experiences; thoughts about diversity and representation; as well as life beyond STEM.
Staff Training Courses
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 Bulletin
Due to popular demand, we bring you a completely new and refreshed version of our Lockdown Bulletin - Informatics Social Bulletin. We have moved all the content that you found useful to our blog, so head there to find out more.
This month we have a round-up of all the changes that implemented as of today - what you can do and cannot do in Scotland from 26th April.
Best of InfGeneral
This month's Best of Inf-general award goes to Kartic Subr - the herald of good news to all cricket fans (see below)!
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.
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