Informatics Newsletter January 2019

Issue 21 of our School newsletter for students and staff.


Burns Ceilidh Night

Our (delayed) Burns Ceilidh Night will be held on 1st February in G.07/G.07a, starting at 6:30pm. The music will be provided by the Pentlands Ceilidh Band. They will also “call” the dances, demonstrating the steps before each dance. This should help the evening go with a swing, especially if some of you are new to ceilidh dancing! Plenty of soft-drinks and water will be provided to keep everyone well hydrated.  A simple supper will also be served during the latter part of the evening. If you wish to supply your own alcohol (in moderation), you are more than welcome to do so. There will be a collection on the night, with all proceeds going to our chosen charity this year, the Turing Trust.

Please register your attendance via Eventbrite.

Register for the ceilidh

More about the Pentlands Ceilidh Band

Informatics Jamboree

Did you enjoy the Informatics Jamboree last year? Would you like to get involved in organising this year’s event? We are looking for volunteers to join the organising committee.

If you’d like to get involved and help us make the Jamboree 2019 an even bigger success, please email infcomms.

Contact Infcomms

Research successes

Best paper award at ICDT

Milos Nikolic has co-authored a paper that was awarded the best paper award at ICDT - International Conference on Database Theory 2019. The paper entitled "Counting Triangles under Updates in Worst-Case Optimal Time" is a collaboration with colleagues from Oxford and Relational AI. The paper opens new avenues for research in the area of incremental maintenance of queries. In particular, it introduces novel techniques for amortized complexity analysis, which are significant for the potential future development of other dynamic evaluation algorithms for more general queries. 

Ahmet Kara, Hung Q. Ngo, Milos Nikolic, Dan Olteanu, Haozhe Zhang, Counting Triangles under Updates in Worst-Case Optimal Time, ICDT March 2019.

Distinguished Paper award at ACM SIGPLAN Symposium

Ohad Kammar and colleagues received the Distinguished Paper award at ACM SIGPLAN Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages (POPL 2019) for the paper Matthijs Vákár, Ohad Kammar, and Sam Staton. A Domain Theory for Statistical Probabilistic Programming. Proc. ACM Program. Lang. 3, POPL, Article 36 (January 2019), 35 pages. DOI: 10.1145/3290349.

The annual Symposium on Principles of Programming Languages is a forum for the discussion of all aspects of programming languages and programming systems. Distinguished paper awards are awarded to at most 10% of the accepted papers (6 awards out of 77 accepted papers this year). They highlight papers that the POPL program committee thinks should be read by a broad audience due to their relevance, originality, significance and clarity.

New book: 3D Shape Analysis: Fundamentals, Theory, and Applications

Bob Fisher has co-authored a new book 3D Shape Analysis: Fundamentals, Theory, and Applications. It discusses the different topics that come under the title of "3D shape analysis", and covers the theoretical foundations and the major solutions that have been presented in the literature. It also establishes links between solutions proposed by different communities that studied 3D shape, such as mathematics and statistics, medical imaging, computer vision, and computer graphics.

Hamid Laga, Yulan Guo, Hedi Tabia, Robert B. Fisher, Mohammed Bennamoun 3D Shape Analysis: Fundamentals, Theory, and Applications John Wiley & Sons, ISBN: 978-1-119-40510-8 January 2019.

Collaborations with major Japanese research institutes on artificial intelligence and robotics

Three collaborations with major Japanese research institutes on artificial intelligence and robotics have been announced. Edinburgh experts will be taking part in the initiative through their involvement in the Alan Turing Institute, the UK’s national centre for data science and artificial intelligence. The Turing's collaborative agreements with Japan are part of a wider UK Government announcement relating to new scientific collaborations between the two countries in the fields of robotics, ethical use of data and medical research. Joint activities between the Turing and the three organisations will include researcher exchange placements, developing joint proposals for research projects and spearheading networking and knowledge exchange activities.

AI scientists team up with Japanese experts

International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (IBANGS) Distinguished Investigator award

Seth Grant has been presented with the International Behavioural and Neural Genetics Society (IBANGS) Distinguished Investigator award which is competitive and is based on the scientific importance of discoveries, record of achievement, mentorship of students, postdoctoral fellows and new faculty, and continued impact on the field. Seth will be presented with this award and give a lecture on his work at the Genes, Brain, and Behavior Meeting to be held at the University of Edinburgh, School of Informatics in May 2019.

More about IBANGS

Best Paper Award at HPCA 2019

Boris Grot and his team have a paper nominated for the Best Paper Award at HPCA 2019. This will be presented in the best paper session (along with 3 other papers). The conference is a top tier venue in computer architecture.

ProtoGen designated as an honourable mention by the computer architecture community

ProtoGen, work lead by ICSA researchers, has been designated as an honourable mention by the computer architecture community. Every year they select a set of papers published that year in the top computer architecture conferences that year. These are "significant and insightful papers that have the potential to influence the work of computer architects for years to come." This year there were 123 submissions, the committee selected 12 Top Picks and 11 Honourable mentions.

ProtoGen helps automate the design of cache coherence protocols. Cache coherence protocols are hardware communication protocols that keep the caches of multicore processors consistent. These are notoriously hard to design and verify, yet subtle bugs can seriously affect end users; for example, a cache coherence caused the Samsung Galaxy S4 to ship with coherence disabled, with serious performance/power implications.

This is the joint work of ICSA researchers: Nicolai Oswald and Vijay Nagarajan; and Daniel Sorin (who was on a sabbatical at Edinburgh in 2017-18).  

Link to paper 'ProtoGen: Automatically Generating Directory Cache Coherence Protocols from Atomic Specifications'

Source code for the project

Student news

Rui Li wins best paper award

Rui Li and Chaoyun Zhang in Paul Patras's team won the best student paper award at International Conference on Machine Learning for Networking (MLN'2018). Earlier this year, Rui Li received the Brendan Murphy award at the UK annual Multi-service Networks Workshop for this work.

First 'We Need To Talk About AI' crowd
First event as part of the 'We Need To Talk About AI' series

We Need to Talk About AI kicked off

A series of public panel discussions about Artificial Intelligence with speakers from across disciplines including informatics, humanities, and social sciences as well as the industry kicked off last week with a discussion covering big data and privacy. The events, hosted by students from EdIntelligence, Machine Learning Society from the School of Informatics, aim to deliver an informed debate with a variety of perspectives on the important topics concerning advances in AI and modern technology. The first event was a great success; it sold out in minutes! See link below for future events – the next one is planned for February.

More about the 'We Need To Talk About AI' events

Student intern places in the Comms Team

Two summer placements are available for all UoE students to work with the Informatics Comms Team as part of the Employ.Ed on Campus Programme.  Students (2nd – penultimate year undergraduates) can apply to up to 3 internships from the 30th Jan - 20th Feb and they will be advertised through MyCareerHub.

More information and adverts

Testimony from a previous intern

NSS opens on 4th February

National Student Survey opens to UoE 4th year students on 4th February.  Last year the School has recorded the biggest rise in student satisfaction among all the schools in CSE. This year we are hoping to raise the response rate.

Recent news from around the School

Informatics Nationalities Campaign

We have kicked off the Informatics Nationality Campaign, or as we call it, #WeAreInAtEd. We are posting most weekdays on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – please follow our social media for more info and make sure you repost and use the hashtag #WeAreInAtEd.

More about the #WeAreInfAtEd campaign

New coffee machines

The two new coffee machines have now been commissioned and available for use. These provide black coffees and espressos only and are mains-plumbed, so should therefore be extremely simple to use and require minimal user interaction. They should not function when the grounds container is full so please make sure you empty it when requested. They are located on L1 and L3 to the west of the corridor (areas 1.01 and 3.01). These machines take a different bean from the existing machines and therefore you should make this clear when asking for supplies from your level admin office. Do not attempt to change/add/adjust any of the settings as this is likely to cause problems with the machines.  They have been professionally set to a specific requirement for the chosen beans.

Mice in the Forum

There have been a few reports of mice in the building over the last few days which have been passed on to Pest Control for action. A programme of general house-keeping will begin shortly, level by level, asking occupants to have a spring clean and clear up any clutter etc, thereby making the Forum a nicer place to work for all, details of which will follow in due course.  Meantime, in light of the appearance of the above, please can everyone make sure they don’t leave any uncovered/unsealed items of food etc around which may attract the mice into our working areas?  This includes leaving dirty dishes on desks and beside sinks.


Arcadia Nursery is a Workplace Nursery

In recent months the University made the Arcadia Nursery a Workplace Nursery. This is wonderful news and has financial benefits to all those who currently use the nursery, or may use the nursery in the future. Workplace Nurseries are childcare facilities provided by an employer and which are offered to employees usually through a tax efficient salary sacrifice scheme. The University of Edinburgh offers the Workplace Nursery Salary Exchange Scheme at the Arcadia Nursery on the Kings Building and Easter Bush Campuses. The Scheme can be used to cover all/part of the nursery fees and in return employees benefit from lower tax and national insurance deductions. The amount is then paid direct by the University to the nursery provider.

More details on the scheme

Have Your Say

The suggestion site (“Have your say”) for students and staff was introduced last year and has already received a good number of contributions from staff and students, mostly very constructive. The Principal encourages us to use it to highlight good practices and/or suggest improvements where needed. Responses to suggestions received so far will be posted online.

'We're listening' page

'Have your say' form

Outreach and Public Engagement

Call for workshops - ASPIRENorth residential, Abernethy, 3rd / 4th April

ASPIRENorth will be hosting a ‘Student Life Experience’ Residential for S4 (~15 year old) pupils on April 2nd – 5th at Abernethy, Nethybridge. This is to showcase what student life may be like and to dispel possible myths around Higher Education.

As part of the programme, they would like to offer taster workshops of different subjects, and are keen to include sciences/engineering. Pupils will be split into three or four groups and will visit each 50-minute interactive workshop in turn. There is currently flexibility on whether workshops will be on Weds 3rd or Thurs 4th. If you would like to contribute, there could be the offer of accommodation if you are involved in a morning session.

For further details, or to offer an interactive workshop, please contact Michelle Lawrie directly.

Contact Michelle

Call for nominations, New Scientist Live, London, 10-13 Oct 2019 - deadline: 15th Feb

Organisers at New Scientist Live have got in touch directly to ask for more nominations from the University of Edinburgh, particularly for contributions related to their engineering, technology, and cosmos themes. This could be a great opportunity to be part of this large, multi-day festival. Nominations can be based on thought-provoking talks, discussions, hands-on demonstrations, workshops, debates and performances.

74% of nearly 40,000 attendees in 2018 were adults, with 1,800 children attending in school groups - a figure they are aiming to increase to 6,000 in 2019.

Further details about New Scientist Live outreach opportunities

Contact Stuart Dunbar if you would like to participate.

Contact Stuart

Call for proposals - BIG Event, deadline: 6th Feb

The BIG Event, the main event for learning more about science communication, is returning to Edinburgh on 17-19 July 2019. The call for session proposals is open now and all types of ideas are welcomed: a show, expertise in evaluation or exhibit development, innovative projects, etc. The main thing is that the 'thing' has to be interactive/hands-on in some way.

More details and the link for proposal submissions

Reminder: Call for contributors - Inverkeithing Primary School Science Festival, 4th - 8th Mar - main event potentially Mon 4th Mar

The second annual science festival at Inverkeithing Primary School aims to have a range of organisations visiting their pupils to illustrate - through interactive activities / stalls - the various roles that young scientists could become involved with later in life and potentially inspire further engagement with science.

They are open to any offers from staff / students and can chat through different ideas with you. If early March isn't possible, then classroom-based workshops on another occasion would certainly be welcome too.

If you are interested in offering something, then please contact Nikki Smith:

Contact Nikki

Phone: 0794 151 6641

Reminder: Call for workshops - St David's Primary, Edinburgh

Saint David's Primary in Pilton is looking for some fun and innovative STEM experiences to be part of their science week beginning 4th March. Previously they've had some fantastic ambassadors visit bringing brilliant and creative ideas to the school in order to broaden the children's STEM understanding, and they'd like to continue their efforts with your support. Established workshops that you have already tried with children would be best, but new ideas would be considered as well.

Please get in touch with Nikki Wright directly if you are able to contribute.

Contact Nikki

Reminder: Call for science-related primary school workshops - Craigmillar / Niddrie Community, 29th Mar

Do you have a science-related workshop suitable for primary-aged children that you could run on the morning of Friday 29th March at one of the Craigmillar / Niddrie primary schools (perfect trial for the science festival)?

These would inspire and create some noise leading into a celebration of science at The Community White House in the afternoon which Cathy has been running for the past two years - a joyful community experience.

To indicate your interest, please contact Cathy as soon as possible.

Contact Cathy

Mental health and wellbeing

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.

You can also speak to Mike Cowan in the College Office.

Contact Mike Cowan

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

A to Z of HR Policies

You can find information about mental health and wellbeing under the link below.

Mental health and wellbeing in Informatics

Staff Pride Network Coffee & Cake meetups

Regular Staff Pride Network Coffee & Cake meetups happening around the campus every month.

  • 2nd Wednesday - Central Campus – Bayes Cafe 1-2pm
  • 3rd Wednesday - King's Buildings - Upstairs Café (Staff Area) 1-2pm
  • Last Wednesday - Western General Hospital - Nucleus Café 3-4pm

Don’t Cross the Line

Don’t Cross the Line is a campaign that aims to demonstrate the University's zero tolerance stance towards bullying and harassment; raise awareness of the support mechanisms that are in place; and promote awareness of existing Dignity & Respect policy.

A training workshop, called ‘Where do you draw the line?’, is available to provide you with further informed support, direction and considerations about your expected behaviours.

Colleagues are also asked to become Respect Champions and help play a key role promoting the right behaviours to your peers.

Don’t Cross the Line guidance for all staff

Respect at Edinburgh training

Be a Respect Champion

Respect at Edinburgh website


Overcoming Unconscious Bias is an online course that aims to increase understanding of unconscious bias in the workplace. It’s compulsory for all staff involved in recruitment and promotion panels. You can access it using your university email address

Overcoming Unconscious Bias


Senate meeting

All members of staff are warmly invited to attend the Presentation and Discussion section of Senate at its meeting on Wednesday 6 February 2019, at 2pm in West Court, Edinburgh College of Art, Main Building. The session will cover two separate themes and will enable all members of staff to contribute to discussion on matters of strategic importance to the University: student experience plan and research excellence framework. Places for this event may be booked through MyEd.

Staff News

Festival of Creative Learning

Programme for this year’s Festival of Creative Learning has launched. Tango or bake your way to a new understanding of mathematics! Explore the Anthropocene through a roleplaying game or by designing your very own bio-plastics! Tour Scotland’s medieval abbeys, John Hutton’s Edinburgh and experiment with fire! Come face to face with collaborative utopia in a mobile tiny hut! Mould a new face in the historic Anatomy Museum and learn how to send and receive secret messages! This year the Festival week is 18th-22nd February during which there will be over 100 extraordinary creative and innovative events. Explore the programme and book onto events now via the Festival’s website. For more information, check out the website or email the Festival of Creative Learning team.

Email for more information

2019 Calendar - Festival of Creative Learning

Examples of linocut art
Examples of linocut art made in the Informatics Open Artspace.

Informatics Open Artspace

When? Tuesday 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

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! 

Informatics Readers Club

Calling all Informatics bookworms! If you are interested in meeting up and chatting about books you have recently read and/or your favourite ones, please get in touch with Infcomms. We are looking to set up a discussion group, that wouldn’t be your usual book club with prescribed readings. We invite everyone, irrespective of what language you’re reading in!

Contact infcomms

Guess who?

 ... comes from a village famed by the best Scottish smoked fish soup?

We call her the 'Quine of the North'!

NB: The soup we mean is Cullen skink!

Best of inf-general

William Waites asked for advice when renting with a pet (we also missed out a recent post about it!) Thanks for collating the info, William, it’ll come handy for all cat and dog lovers!

The recent problems seem to relate to the tightening of the deposit system resulting in a perception among landlords that it is more difficult to claim against the deposit. Many react by simply saying no pets.

Most listings, perhaps because of default settings in the web site software, say “no pets”. Do not believe this. If there is a flat that you are interested in, ask. There may yet be flexibility (as William found). There will usually be an extra set of conditions to add to the lease or sign separately, essentially saying that you’ll repair any damage and clean the place properly.

It is easier to find landlords who will accept a cat than a dog.

Hiding the pet is not recommended. It may work to wait until the last moment to mention the pet and hope that the landlord just wants to close the deal.


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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