Informatics Newsletter August 2020

Issue 38 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

A Message from Head of School

Photo of Jane Hillston sitting at a desk

Dear colleagues,

The end of August always signals the start of a new academic year.  This is year is no different in the broadest sense, but in the details it feels as if nearly everything is different.  This feeling is compounded by a lot of uncertainty over our student numbers due to the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 and the changing situations with respect to exam results.  But there are a few certainties.  In the middle of next month we will welcome around 1500 students onto our taught programmes. Some of them will be returning undergraduates entering second, third, fourth or fifth year, whilst we will also have about 500-550 students new to us entering first year or the MSc programmes.  Some of them will be in Edinburgh, some of them will be studying remotely.  Some will be sanguine about the current situation, but some will feel anxious about both immediate and long-term impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.  But they will all have in common that they want to study, they have chosen to come to us and they need our help to reach their full potential. 

Teaching and nurturing students is at the absolute core of what we do, and in order to make that happen this year there are going have to be some sacrifices and special arrangements to help address the challenges presented by Covid-19.  You will have already heard about the impact of the 2m social distancing on how we use the Forum for our research activities, with reduced capacity in rooms and enforced patterns of movement about the building.  These issues are even more profound on the spaces we use for teaching.  So, for example, Lecture Theatre 1 in Appleton Tower that usually seats up to 195 is reduced to a capacity of 18.  For this reason, many additional rooms will be used for teaching in the coming semester, including G.07 in the Forum, giving us an additional 25 seats for on campus activities.  We are still working with estates to finalise how students will enter and exit the room, but the plan is to have a one way system (probably making use of the fire door) and avoiding students having to enter  and exit G.07 via the atrium.  A consequence of this is that all seminars and distinguished lectures will need to continue to be online for the coming semester, as has become the norm over the last few months. The reduced room capacity has led to a decision to extend the teaching day until 8pm and Björn has sent messages to academic staff about the possibility of volunteering for engaging with the students in the evening slots.  In the weekly message, I also mentioned the impact on tutorial groups and our need for additional people to take on teaching support roles such as tutoring.  Now more than ever, we need to pull together as a team.

I know that many of you are working flat out to prepare for the new academic year and the return of students.  I know that this is not only those of you who have roles that are directly related to our teaching because the preparations for the new academic year increase the workload for a broad range of professional service staff as well as teaching staff.  I thank you all for your commitment; I know that the students will appreciate the effort. 

With best wishes,


New Staff

Academic staff

Tobias Grosser started as a reader in Compilers and Runtime Systems on 1st July

Ava Khamseh started as a lecturer in Biomedical Artificial Intellignece on 1st July

Luo Mai started as a lecturer in Data Centric Systems on 1st July

Fiona McNeill started as a reader in Computer Science Education on 1st July

Bjorn Ross started as a lecturer in Computational Social Science on 1st July

David Symons started as a University teacher on 1st July

Sam Ainsworth started as a lecturer in Systems and Hardware Security on 3rd July

Frank Mollica started as a lecturer in Computation Cognitive Science on 13th July

Liam O'Connor started as a lecturer in Programming Languages for Trustworthy Systems on 13th July

Michel Steuwer started as a lecturer at the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 23rd July

Siddharth Narayanaswamy started as a reader in Explainable Artificial Intelligence on 27th July

Amir Shaikhha started as a lecturer in Data Centric Systems on 17th August

Research staff

Abeer Aldayel started as a research associate at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st July

Jindra Helcl started as a research associate at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st July

Christos Vasiladiotis started as a research associate at the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 1st July

Sukanta Sen started as a research associate at the Institue for Language, Cognition and Computation on 14th July

Ibrahim Abu Farha started as a research assistant at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st August

Youssef Al Hariri started as a research assistant at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st August

Mriganka Biswas started as a research associate at the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st August

Silviu Oprea started as a research assistant at the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 1st August

Andrea Weisse started as a senior research fellow at the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st August

Highlights and Announcements

Roadmap to re-opening the School - latest updates

This week we have seen 25 more people who can no longer work from home (staff and PGR students) being authorised to go back to work in their offices (in the Informatics Forum). Facilities and colleagues from BRWG have now moved on to preparing the Appleton Tower for starting the teaching in semester 1.

Please do keep an eye on emails from Facilites, Jane or Joy for updates.

Please note that if you haven't indicated to us that you need to go back to your office you are not authorised to access any of the buildings. If you have missed the emails, please contact Facilities.

Whether you have come back to the buildings already are not planning to be in for a while you might want to read FAQs about the re-opening and new procedures that we have colated for you below. 

Re-opening and new procedures FAQS

Re-opening of the School of Informatics - latest updates

Jane Hillston and Michael Rovatsos appointed Deputy Vice Principals Research

Congratulations to our Head of School and Director of the Bayes Centre for being appointed new Deputy Vice Principals Research.  Their two-year secondments will start in September and they will both continue in their current roles. Michael will be particularly focused on Artificial Intelligence.

GIF explaining the benefits of purchasing a virtual booth at this year's EIE20 conference

Take part in EIE20 on 14th October 2020

Take part in #EIE20 by purchasing a fully featured, branded virtual booth & advertise your product/services to all attendees. Visit our International Virtual Market Place to see the 8 options on offer, or register as a delegate.


EIE20 International Virtual Market Place

Register as a delegate at EIE20

Work with MSc/ MA Design Informatics students at Data Fair 2020

This is an invitation to participate in Data Fair 2020 and work with our Design Informatics MSc/MA students on data analysis and visualization projects between late September 2020 and early December 2020The entire course, data fair, and collaboration will be held online. We will provide platforms for collaboration and meetings. Participation is open to everyone. 

Our data fair brings together our Master students in Design Informatics at the University of Edinburgh and external partners to collaborate on data analysis and visualization. The goal is for the students to choose a real-world dataset and an associated ‘challenge’ over in our course ‘Data Science for Design’, running from October to December 2020. Within that course, students will learn the basics of data analysis and visulaization. Their assignment requires them to analyze a data set (basic analysis and plotting) and work on a visualization project that can focus on exploratory or explanatory issues for data visualization. Students will work in groups of 3 students.

Visit projects from past years

More information about Data Fair 2020

Contact Benjamin Bach if you have any questions

6-foot humaoid robot Talos stands with six members of the robotics research lab, all in masks
Talos and the team

The robotics research lab welcomes their newest addition, 6-foot humaoid robot Talos

This month Talos was welcomed to the robotics research lab based at the Bayes Centre. The 6-foot tall humanoid robot is hard to miss, and will be used by researchers of the Statistical Machine Learning and Motor Control group to study walking, balancing, using tools and sensing the world.

Read the full story on the School of Informatics website

Statistical Machine Learning and Motor Control group

Participants needed for an experiment!

Native English speakers are needed for an online experiment. The experiment will take about 40 minutes, and participants will receive a £10 Amazon voucher.

The Bergamot project is developing locally run machine translation tools that aim for privacy and excellence.

For this experiment we are looking for adult native English speakers with normal or corrected-to-normal vision and no language development issues.

You will be reading English text (machine-translated from a foreign language) on a computer browser and answering questions about the presentation of translation quality. All your data will be strictly anonymised (Edinburgh University Informatics research ethics approved, RT 4058).

How long will it take?

  • About 40 minutes total

Will I get anything?

  • You will receive an Amazon (UK) voucher worth £10 in appreciation for your time

Bergamot project

Register your interest in participating through the Bergamot project website

Research Finance update

Changes to the Research Finance team

There were a few changes within the research finance office (research/Institute) normally located in IF 1.37. There are now 3 finance administrators providing finance support for the 6 Institutes.  The portfolios have been allocated as follows:

  1. LFCS & AIAI – Julie Laidlaw (
  2. ILCC & ICSA – Craig McKenzie Smith (
  3. IPAB & ANC – Anna Lantouri (

These changes took effect from Monday 24th August with some cross-over during a short transition period.  Where an Institute has a different finance administrator assigned, please direct new queries/requests to the appropriate person.  Any ongoing/existing requests will be completed by the initial contact person.

During staff absences, please use the shared mailbox address Likewise, for any general queries not related to a specific Institute.

Finance administrators shared mailbox

Please note, that this office will only deal with grant or Institute funded requests.  For School related funding, please use

Update from the School Finance

Electronic submission of expenses now available

Since just before lockdown you have been able to submit your expenses electronically. Updated guidance for direct electronic submission of expenses by claimants can be found on the School finance pages.

Updated guidance for submitting expenses electronically

Research Services updates

School REF preparations are continuing, and REF eligible staff received communications from Steve Renals (REF coordinator) on 17 August with a request for additional output nominations and/or edits to 100 word statements. Please complete additional nominations and/or edits by *Friday 04 September*. 

Steve and Victoria are holding two REF2 Workshops to answer questions about nominating papers and writing supporting statements. If you would like to attend, please join via the Teams links below:

  • REF2 Workshop 1: Wednesday 26 Aug 2pm – 3.30pm. Join via link:

REF2 Workshop 1 Teams link

  • REF2 Workshop 2 link: Tuesday 01 Sept 3.45pm – 17.15pm. Join via link:

REF2 Workshop 2 Teams link

For any questions about REF2021 preparations, please contact Steve or Victoria.

Our summer Open Access check concluded last week with engagement from about a third of research active staff – thank you to all who completed the form.

If you have a recently accepted paper, or any questions regarding Pure, Open Access or publications generally, please contact Victoria and Sam on at any time.

Contact Steve 

Contact Victoria

Email RDM Team

Student news

Undergraduate student Billy Byiringiro named finalist in the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards

BSc Artificial Intelligence and COmputer Science student Jean Claude Billy Byiringiro has been named as one of the finalists in this year's TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year Awards in the Computer Science, IT and Physics category, sponsored by Skyscanner. Billy is one of just eight finalists selected from universities around the UK in this category, and the winner will be announced on Friday 4th September at the Grand Final. We wish Billy all the best for next Friday, and will keep our fingers crossed for him!

TARGETjobs Computer Science, IT and Physics Undergraduate of the Year

Billy's personal page

EUFS F1-style race car, green
A simulation of the race car that EUFS used to compete in this year's FS UK competition.

EUFS AI Team win Formula Student UK AI competition for the third consecutive year

For the third time in a row the University’s Formula Student AI team won the ADS Design and Class Awards for the best software and hardware design of an autonomous race car at the FS UK competition. Though this year’s physical competition, scheduled to take place at Silverstone, was cancelled, the usual competition events took place online. These events enabled teams from all over the world to showcase their race cars in terms of design, real world application, simulation development and business presentations. By winning the overall ADS competition EUFS have now positioned themselves to be the first UK team to build an autonomous racing vehicle. Despite disruption caused by the pandemic, the team still hope to achieve this within the next year and thus take a driverless race car to the 2021 FS UK competition. Students from a variety of cultural and academic backgrounds are involved in EUFS, and Informatics students have played an increasingly important role since the creation of the AI team three years ago. Today over 40% of EUFS’s active members have an Informatics background, reflecting the society’s shifting interest towards automated driving systems.


Formula Student UK competition

Staff news

Yang Cao to receive prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowship

Yang Cao is one of 16 recipients of the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowships. The Fellowships (worth £592k) will allow him to work on his project ‘Making database systems learn and making them robust’. Traditional database systems are based on hard-coded algorithms. Although robust, they need to be tailored for different applications. This research aims to lay the foundations of new database systems that can learn to adapt while keeping the robustness guarantees of a traditional system. In doing this, it combines the best of both worlds: benefiting from the abundant power of learning and being reliable for high-stakes database applications. The project will start in October 2020. The Academy’s Research Fellowships are designed to advance excellence in engineering by enabling early-career researchers to concentrate on basic research in any field of engineering. Each awardee receives five years’ worth of funding to advance their research careers. They also receive mentoring from experienced Academy Fellows, providing valuable advice and industry links that will enable the researchers to establish themselves as future leaders in their fields.

Royal Academy of Engineering Fellowships

Yang's research page

Walid Magdy awarded over £100,000 for project on detecting fake news in Arabic social media

Walid Magdy was awarded £143k by the Qatar National Research Fund to work on his project ‘Early detection of fake news over Arabic social media’. In this project, the researchers work on analysing the presence of fake news in social media in general and in Arabic social media in particular. The project is a collaboration between The University of Edinburgh, Qatar University, and our industrial partner AlJazeera network. The main role of Edinburgh team is to analyse the spread of fake news across different languages and location. They will investigate research questions such as: where is the fake news generated? How does it spread locally and worldwide? How can a given piece of fake news can spread across different languages? Who helps it to spread more?

Walid's personal page

Qatar National Research Fund

Diego Oyarzun wins Principal's Innovation Award

Diego Oyarzun is one of the recipients of the Principal's Innovation Award. The Principal’s Innovation Award is a new competition for high-risk, blue-skies projects that have transformative potential. Ten prizes of £10,000 each were awarded, with the prize enabling the winners to develop their projects into applications of ambition and scale.

Diego's personal page

Principal's Innovation Award

William Waites receives grant for project on testing and contact tracing

William Waites received a grant of £46,500 from the Chief Scientist Office to work on his project ‘Network models for infection control through testing and contact tracing’. Though the concept of detecting infection with a disease such as COVID-19 using tests and finding contacts of positive cases who may themselves have become infected with a view to containing outbreaks is far from new, there are gaps in our understanding of it. Seemingly simple questions like, "how frequently should we test?" or "given finite resources, who should be prioritised for testing?" do not have established answers. The answers to questions like this are influenced by the network structure of the population. Contact between individuals mostly does not happen at random. Rather, the majority of contacts tend to be repeated with friends, family and colleagues. In the course of this project the researchers have (a) shown that testing, contact tracing and isolation (or what is now known as "Test and Protect" in Scotland) is indeed an effective part of a strategy for containing COVID-19 outbreaks and (b) established a worst-case estimate of the resources needed to do so. They have also (c) introduced some more sophisticated modelling techniques from molecular biology and applied them to this topic enabling much more nuanced effects like social dynamics of wearing masks. They are now investigating coupled epidemics to understand how outbreaks in neighbouring regions or countries can spill over and affect each other.

William's personal page

Chief Scientist Office grant funding

Kobi Gal delivers keynote presentation at ICEDM 2020

Kobi Gal gave a keynote presentation at the International Conference on Educational Data Mining 2020.  The keynote, titled Online Collaborative Student Group Learning focussed on the use of AI and Machine Learning to support students learning together in groups, and teachers' understanding of how students learn. Collaborative student learning has been shown to lead to significant academic benefits among students, and to improved social skills that are critical for the workforce, such as communication and teamwork. However, these benefits were limited to small face-to-face groups and required the support of human experts who actively monitored and guided the group???s learning.  Technological advances now enable globally dispersed teams to collaborate online, from Q&A forums to virtual laboratories. Augmenting these settings with AI technology can scale up the benefits of collaborative group learning to online groups. In his talk Kobi described challenges to EDM research for supporting this new type of online teamwork, as well as opportunities for combining AI and learning analytics towards supporting students??? learning and teachers??? understanding of how students learn. A video recording of the talk is available on YouTube.

Watch Kobi Gal's keynote presentation on YouTube

Kobi's personal page

International Conference on Education Data Mining 2020

SLMC have seven papers accepted to IROS 2020

The Statistical Learning and Motor Control Group have had seven papers accepted at The International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Systems IROS 2020 conference, to be held in Las Vegas from October 25th - 29th.

Find out more about the accepted papers on the SLMC website

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.

Informatics Outreach and Public Engagement Directory

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.

Public Engagement webform

For latest opportunities please check CSE PE blog for more info.

CSE Public Engagement update

Funding - Maths Week Scotland, deadline 26th Aug

Maths Week Scotland returns on 28th Sept - 4th Oct 2020 (this is the week between the Doors Open Day and Fun Palaces weekends) with the aim of engaging people with activities to do in school, at home, or anywhere! Further details will be made available through the main Maths Week Scotland 2020 page.

To support the campaign's objectives, there is a Small Grants Fund that can be used to meet certain costs and enable engagement with new communities as well as recognise people's participation. Guidance and the application process can be accessed through the Maths Week Scotland funding page. The deadline for applications is noon on 26th Aug.

Other public engagement funding opportunities - of any discipline - can be explored on the NCCPE funding pages.

Maths Week Scotland 2020 page

Maths Week Scotland funding page

NCCPE funding pages

Call for contributions - Engage Festival 2020, deadline 31st Aug

The UK's leading conference for Public Engagement practice returns from 30th Nov to 4th Dec in a new form: the Engage Festival 2020. Taking place completely online, the focus this year will be on the future of engagement, including: the roles of universities in society, inclusive engagement, and working in partnership within the current context.

Anyone and everyone (from within and beyond HEIs) are invited to contribute interactive workshops, debates, panel discussions, webinars, storytelling, video showcase, etc etc etc. Whatever works for your idea will be considered! Some funding is potentially available.

Introductory details can be found at the Engage 2020 call page.

Engage 2020 call page

Call for peer researchers / contributors - Public Engagement and Covid-19

The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE) is launching a research study to explore the impact of Covid-19 on Public Engagement Professionals and the broader engagement work of universities. From applying to be a peer researcher, through to being an interviewee or responding to a survey, there are several ways that you could be involved in this work.

Further background and the links to applications/volunteering can be found on the PEP Insights Research Study page.

PEP Insights Research Study page

Call for contributors - Midlothian Science Festival 2020 public programme, 17th-25th Oct

The Midlothian Science Festival team are planning to coordinate a selection of online activities in order to engage the people of Midlothian with science. Examples of what the team is looking for include: online videos; stay-at-home activities that are offered online; live online events that you can host; and potential last-minute in-person activities (just in case in-person events are possible to arrange).

If you have any content along the lines of the ideas above - or anything else that you think could be of interest - please get in touch with Ken Aitchison.

Contact Ken Aitchison by email 

Call for contributors - Midlothian Science Festival 2020 online schools programme, 12th-30th Oct

Following on from the item above, the Midlothian Science Festival team are also looking to coordinate a schools-focused programme as well. There are two ways to get involved:

a) Online activities for teachers or learners and their families that can be accessed at any time, e.g. online games, downloadable activities, lessons, etc. To add your suggestion(s), visit the Padlet online noticeboard and follow the instructions there. You can add your ideas already. The final Padlet will be promoted to schools and families prior to and during the main 12th-30th Oct period.

Padlet online noticeboard

b) Direct online engagement activities, e.g. supplying physical activities, live online Meet the Scientist session. The Midlothian Science Festival organisers can promote these options to Midlothian schools and arrange partnerships with one or more schools/classes. To offer your idea, please email Jane Quoiani with the details of your activity.

Email Jayne Quoiani 

During the Midlothian Science Festival, the programme will be highlighted through the @EBSOClab twitter account and the #MSFSchools2020 hashtag. Programme contributors can also use the hashtag to add to the social media attention.

@EBSOClab on twitter

Call for contributors - I'm a Scientist/Engineer, Stay at Home platforms

Part A - I'm a Scientist:

All researchers (including Postgraduates) and technicians are invited to take part in I’m a Scientist, which is an online engagement platform that helps pupils stay connected with STEM, their teachers and their classmates. You’ll develop your communication skills and gain a fresh perspective on your work (and maybe win £500), all while showing pupils that science roles can be for them.

You fill in a profile page, answer pupils' questions, and use the text-based chat system. Everything happens online; you take part from your desk or smartphone. There’s no need to prepare activities or leave your office, lab or house. Each zone in the upcoming autumn term (31st Aug - 18th Dec) will last for four weeks.

See the I'm a Scientist page for further details and to sign-up, or send any questions to the I'm a Scientist team.

I'm a Scientist page

Email the I'm a Scientist team

Part B - I'm an Engineer:

Furthermore, a Space Zone is planned for the I'm an Engineer platform between 2nd-27th Nov. Details and signing-up can be found on the I'm an Engineer application page and applications can be submitted now. Any questions can be emailed to Antony of the I'm an Engineer platform.

There is also an I'm a Mathematician online platform, but there are no active calls for contributors for this platform at present.

I'm an Engineer application page  

Email Anthony

I'm a Mathematician online platform

Call for contributors - Fun Palaces Scotland Planning Forums

Taking place on 3rd-4th October, the organisers of Fun Palaces - a communities-driven celebration of culture in all its forms - are hosting some informal planning forums over the next few weeks. The first 30 minutes of the gatherings are optional and provide an introduction to the Fun Palaces concept for those who are potentially looking to be involved for the first time. The following hour is open for general discussion about possible ideas and developing initial plans, or just listening to the ideas in development and offering your thoughts if you wish.

The next gathering will take place from 10am on 13th Aug. For further details and to sign-up, please visit the Fun Palaces Eventbrite page.

Fun Palaces on Eventbrite

Call for contributions - Engage Festival 2020, deadline: 31st Aug

The UK's leading conference for Public Engagement practice returns from 30th Nov to 4th Dec in a new form: the Engage Festival 2020. Taking place completely online, the focus this year will be on the future of engagement, including: the roles of universities in society, inclusive engagement, and working in partnership within the current context.

Anyone and everyone (from within and beyond HEIs) are invited to contribute interactive workshops, debates, panel discussions, webinars, storytelling, video showcase, etc etc etc. Whatever works for your idea will be considered! Some funding is potentially available.

Black Lives Matter - a reflective space to support action

The NCCPE are moderating a series of Padlet-based 'rooms' that are designed to be a foundation for personal reflection on the issues at the heart of Black Lives Matter and how everyone can positively think, work, and act differently. There are six rooms of resources and information to explore and a further room in which visitors can contribute their ideas for action.

NCCPE Padlet on Black Lives Matter

Call for contributors - Global Science Show, 11th Sept

This virtual science festival - using videos, images, and anything else - on Twitter returns on 11th Sept in association with Pint of Science and the Glasgow Science Festival. Anyone, anywhere in the world can sign up to be a presenter. After registration, you will be assigned a time slot anywhere from 9am to 9pm. Each slot is a maximum of 10 minutes, but your contribution could be shorter.

For further information and to register, please visit the Global Science Show Eventbrite page.

Global Science Show on  Eventbrite

Pint of Science

Glasgow Science Festival

Call for speakers - InterSci

InterSci - a student-led organisation that encourages more conversations between scientists of different disciplines as well as beyond academia - are seeking more scientists for their upcoming plans. You can find more background details about InterSci's events on their website.

If you would like to find out more, or simply get further details of the sorts of things that InterSci have planned, then you can email the InterSci team  at or get in touch through their Twitter account.

InterSci website

Email the InterSci team

InterSci on Twitter

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. 

List and feedback on training courses

Submit feedback

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... everyone who offered colleagues help (and understanding) for problems with MS Teams! 

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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