Informatics Newsletter January 2023

Issue 64 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

A Message from Head of School

Photo of Jane Hillston sitting at a desk

Dear All,

Welcome to the first newsletter of 2023 and of the new lunar year.  I wish everyone a happy and productive new year.  If we look back at 2022 it was a year of great change in the UK and internationally, and I’m not sure how many of those changes we would have predicted at this time last year.  Every new year brings known opportunities and challenges but often it is the unanticipated events that bring the biggest joys as well as the biggest sorrows.  All we can do is try to face these unforeseen changes with grace and equanimity.

For me the biggest anticipated change this year will be the end of my term as the Head of School.  It has been a great honour and privilege to served as Head of School, and I am sure that I will miss many aspects of the role after August, particularly the close working relationships that I have forged with many colleagues over the last five years.  I will also miss the sense of purpose and the opportunity to support and encourage colleagues and students in their careers and studies.  On the other hand, I will be glad to have a diary with more free time and the chance to let my mind wander a little more.  The creative processes are different for all of us, but for me a diary of non-stop meetings is definitely not conducive for creativity.  I look forward to the chance to read and think without an urgent goal and reconnect with research.

So whatever the year of the rabbit has in store for you I hope that it is involves a sense of purpose and achievement interspersed with periods of creative indolence, fruitful interactions with friends and colleagues, and only positive unanticipated events.

With best wishes,


New Staff

Current vacancies

We are currently searching for our next Head of School - learn more here

We are also recruiting for various academic (lecturer/reader) and research (RAs) positions within the School of Informatics, across our research fields.

Link to School of Informatics vacancies website


Informatics searching for a new Head of School

The School of Informatics is looking for an outstanding candidate who will provide strategic leadership, with a key role in shaping the future of the School to increase its global impact and contribution to society.

More information


Image of robot hand holding red jigsaw piece and human hand holding blue jigsaw piece

60 years of computer science and AI

During 2023, the School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh celebrates 60 years of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Computer Science research, highlighting the heritage of this extraordinary place as one of the leading centres for advanced technology research. A programme of events in 2023 will mark achievements over the past six decades, and look to the future of AI and computer science at Edinburgh.

The opening event, “Informatics: 60 Years of History” gave us the opportunity to look into early research activities that led to the formation of the Division of Informatics in 1998. Professors Alan Bundy, Don Sannella and Mike Fourman recalled the beginnings of research interests in computer science and AI, challenges and achievements, as well as people who led the way. Professor Bundy observed that in the 60s there were only four research groups in AI in the world: MIT, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and at the University of Edinburgh. Professor Sannella in turn recalled that when the Computer Unit was established in 1963, it ran University's computing service through overnight batch access to the Atlas computer at Manchester University. Allowance was 15 minutes per day. The First University of Edinburgh computer, PDP-8, arrived in 1965. We went a long way since then.

The recording of all the talks, as well as short presentations by a panel of invited guests, are now available online.

Link to full article

Health & Safety

Training matrix now available

The Informatics Health and Safety training matrix is now available, defining which H&S courses are required for your role. Everyone should take some time to read this and then complete or sign up for the relevant courses.  New starts from January 2023 have a defined period in which to complete the training (listed in the matrix), and anyone who started before then should complete their courses this year.  You’ll find the matrix and more information on the H&S intranet page using the link below.

Link to health and safety training webpage

Research Data Management

Research outputs and open access in 2022

In 2022, the School logged 581 publications in Pure, of which 373 were subject to open access requirements. Of these, 342 (91.7%) met the open access requirements.

Regardless of policies and regulations, we encourage all researchers to consider open access a ‘good thing’ as it allows for wider access to your research, without paywall barriers. In line with the University’s new Research Publications Policy, we can now make accepted manuscripts available in Edinburgh Research Explorer without embargo, meaning wider access to your work as soon as it is published or presented at conference.

Research Publications policy

Until new guidance is published for the next REF, we are working to the open access requirements imposed by funders such as UKRI, and the requirements which applied for output eligibility for REF2021. To ensure your strongest work is eligible for submission in the next REF, please ensure you contact the RDM team using the button below as soon as your paper is accepted for publication.

Email RDM team

Open access checks

RDM are starting 2023 with another of our quarterly open access checks. If you haven’t already done so, please complete the Publications Check form by Friday, 3rd February.

Link to Publications check form

As always, you are welcome to send RDM questions and comments on PURE, open access and REF at any time.

Email RDM team

Data management plans

In early January, RDM hosted a research lunch on Data Management Plans with Simon Smith from the University’s Research Data Service.

For detailed advice and help with writing a data management plan, please to contact Simon and his team directly using the button below.

Email data support

You are encouraged to use DMPOnline to create your data management plan, which includes a ‘Request Feedback’ button that sends your draft DMP to the Research Data Service team for review.

For local advice, you are invited to speak with Ajitha Rajan as Deputy Director of Research. Ajitha will hold a regular office hour dedicated to data management plans at 3pm every other Monday (IF-4.14). You are also welcome to contact Ajitha directly on MS Teams for feedback.

Upcoming office hour dates

6 Feb, 20 Feb, 6 March, 20 March, 3 April.

Informatics Graduate School (IGS)

As we are going through some restructuring at the moment, and with our buildings occupied once again as part of hybrid working, we thought this would be an ideal opportunity to reintroduce you to the Professional Services teams within the School of Informatics.

Our next post is brought to you by Patrick Hudson, Senior Informatics Graduate School Co-ordinator, telling us all about the Informatics Graduate School.

Link to blog post

Stay tuned for an introduction to a different professional services team with each newsletter.

Visit blog

Student news

Sustainable Business Idea Competition – Deadline: 31 January 2023

Have an idea to change the world?  

Edinburgh Innovations and the Edinburgh Earth Initiative have partnered with the School of Informatics to give you an opportunity to win £1,000 just for telling them about your sustainable business idea.

There are four categories to choose from, with one focusing on responsible computing. This competition is a fantastic opportunity for current students and recent alumni from the School of Informatics to become part of the just transition to a more sustainable world.

Read more about the competition and apply by clicking on the link below.

Link to competition registration page

Informatics students win bronze again at NWERC

One More Try, a team from the School of Informatics were placed 9th out of 140, winning a bronze medal, at the Northwestern Europe Regional Contest 2022 (NWERC), an official regional contest in the International Collegiate Programming Contest.

The bronze-winning team (Justas Zelnia, Nicholas Zhang and Robertas Norkus) returned to the competition also having won bronze last year. They were joined by first-timers: Ho Ning Leung, Carlos Rosuero and Henrich Hegedus. 

Link to full article

CDT NLP student runner-up in Open Research Award at Good Research Practice Awards

Congratulations to Georgia-Ann Carter, UKRI CDT in Natural Language Processing student at the School of Informatics, who came runner-up in the Open Research Award category at the Good Research Practice awards - run by the University of Edinburgh to recognise and celebrate contributions that provide leadership and act as role models for good research practice.

The award winners were announced at the Good Reserach Practice Awards evening on 18 November 2022.

Link to Good Research Practice Awards website

INF1B Object-oriented programming course to get an innovative revamp

Vidminas Vizgirda, Fiona McNeill and Brian Mitchell (course organisers for INF1B, Object-Oriented Programming) set out to give their course a modern revamp. They will improve the materials’ presentation and accessibility and enable access for the wider public by hosting them on a public-access website, available under a CC-BY-SA open license.

This initiative is in line with the University’s Open Education Resources policy that encourages staff and students “to create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, increase the provision of learning opportunities for all, and contribute to the global pool of open knowledge”.

Link to full article

Staff news

AI tools could boost social media users' privacy

Smart AI tools could protect social media users’ privacy by tricking algorithms designed to predict their personal opinions, a study by the School of Informatics researchers suggests.

Digital assistants could help prevent users from unknowingly revealing their views on social, political and religious issues by fighting AI with AI, researchers say. 

Their findings suggest automated assistants could offer users real-time advice on ways to modify their online behaviour to mislead AI opinion-detection tools so that their opinions stay private.

Our research has shown AI can use a variety of signals to easily detect users’ opinion on many topics without people even discussing them online. We have developed a tool that can suggest accounts users can follow or retweet to mislead AI opinion-detection algorithms, so that they fail to discover people’s real stance on a given topic.

Dr Walid Magdy, School of Informatics 

Link to full article

AI and robots could help detect UTIs early

Scientists are developing artificial intelligence and talking robots to help to detect urinary tract infections in vulnerable people early.

The £1.1 million FEATHER project, led by the School of Informatics, aims to increase an individual’s wellbeing and reduce the number of serious outcomes from incorrect or late diagnoses of urinary tract infections (UTIs).

This unique data platform will help individuals, carers and clinicians to recognise the signs of potential urinary tract infections far earlier, helping to prompt the investigations and medical tests needed. Earlier detection makes timely treatment possible, improving outcomes for patients, lowering the number of people presenting at A&E, and reducing costs to the NHS.

Professor Kia Nazarpour,Project lead and Professor of Digital Health at the School of Informatics

Link to full article

Mahesh Marina

Paper by Mahesh Marina and PhD student accepted to ACM CoNEXT Conference

Mahesh with his PhD student, Chuanhao Sun, in collaboration with Kai Xu (Amazon) and Howard Benn (Samsung) have their paper titled “GenDT: Mobile Network Drive Testing Made Efficient with Generative Modeling” accepted to the 2022 edition of the ACM CoNEXT Conference to be held on 6-9 December 2022. CoNEXT is a top venue for research in the computer networking field.

Collecting field measurements through drive testing is a common practice among mobile network operators as part of optimising coverage and user experience on their networks. However, traditional drive testing is known to be costly and time-consuming due to the manual effort involved in obtaining such measurements. This paper introduces a new approach for efficient drive testing, termed GenDT, that synthesises dependable drive testing data for any given region with just a small number of measurements, through a novel conditional deep generative model. Using real-world drive testing measurement datasets from two countries and considering multiple downstream drive testing data driven applications, GenDT is shown to generate high fidelity drive testing data while being efficient (in the number of real measurements needed).

This paper is part of a series of works led by Prof. Marina that are aimed at developing tailored generative models for synthesising high-fidelity mobile networking data of various kinds, which are either inaccessible or expensive to measure.

Link to conference website

Link to paper

Elham Kashefi

Collaboration provides catalyst for quantum acceleration - Elham Kashefi shares insight

Scientists and engineers with different skills, knowledge and experience are pooling their resources to tackle the challenge of scaling up quantum computers to deliver a computational advantage.

Elham Kashefi, Professor of Computer Science and Personal Chair in quantum computing at the School of Informatics, was quoted by Physics World in the article about her appointment as chief scientist of the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC).

Link to Physics World article

Photograph of Ross Anderson

Ross Anderson comments on 'strip club scam' article in the Daily Mail

Professor Ross Anderson commented on a so-called 'strip club scam', a type of fraud where strip club customers' drinks are spiked and then hacked chip and pin machine is used to raid their bank accounts. Similar cases have been reported in the UK and abroad since 2014.

Before chip & pin was introduced, fraudsters could mostly only steal smaller amounts from lots of people by cloning magnetic strips on cards. But chip & pin transactions have high limits - or sometimes none at all - allowing fewer victims to be scammed for larger amounts. A pre-play attack works by harvesting authorisation codes after the customer uses their card and enters their pin. The hacked terminal can show a customer is buying a drink for £20, but in reality, be charging them £2,000 - and scammers then use the saved authorisation codes to queue up multiple cashouts throughout the night. To counter 'velocity checks' which flag possible fraud if multiple transactions are performed in quick succession from the same card, the transactions are queued for the course of a few hours, rather than in quick succession. To stop customers from leaving and breaking the time series by using the card elsewhere, criminals spike their drinks to ensure they fall asleep for the duration of the queue. Professor Anderson suggests anyone visiting strip clubs should only bring cash with them to avoid being scammed.

The article was published in the Mail Online on 15th January.

Photograph of Vaishak Belle

Vaishak Belle joins the team working on 'Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem’ project

Vaishak Belle, Reader in Artificial Intelligence at the School of Informatics, is a co-PI on a project that aims to ensure AI and data are used responsibly and ethically across society and industry.

The programme will build connections between academia, industry, policy, regulation and the public to help build confidence in AI, enable innovation, stimulate economic growth and deliver wider public benefit.

Professors Shannon Vallor and Ewa Luger will direct the £3.5 million programme ‘Enabling a Responsible AI Ecosystem’ in collaboration with the Ada Lovelace Institute.

Link to programme launch article

Pavlos Andreadis introduces non-computer scientists to AI and storytelling 

On 30th September 2022, Pavlos Andreadis delivered an invited lecture and workshop for the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI) course "The World of Story: Narrative, Creativity and the Arts". The lecture was titled "Artificial Intelligence & Storytelling", and the workshop had students produce a story using an open source library of text and image models.

The dedicated repository wraps existing models under a common programmatic interface; produced with Pavlos' PhD student Patrick Kage. The workshop targeted postgraduate students without a computing background, introducing them to both programming and AI applications. It is a precursor to the AI & Storytelling EFI course that will be delivered for the first time this semester. 

Link to access the repository


Informatics Impact Celebration

Wednesday 1 February 2-5.30pm in G.07 and the atrium

Keynote talk – Michael Berger, "Speech Graphics: A journey from university to global company"

Come to hear about how our research has enabled autonomous vehicles, blockchains and more — and learn how you can do it too!

Link to full agenda and to register

Considering Masters or PhD study? Get your FREE study fair ticket

Wednesday, 1 February, 12:00 - 15:00

Thinking about Masters or PhD study? Don't miss Postgrad LIVE Edinburgh, the FREE study fair in McEwan Hall on Wednesday, 1 February. Drop in anytime between 12 to 3pm and meet over 60 top unis from the UK and around the world, all under one roof!

Why attend?

  • Get face-to-face advice on applications and projects from over 20 top universities
  • Receive the latest Masters and PhD funding advice and 2023 funding guide
  • Learn how to write a successful research proposal for PhD study
  • Ask your burning questions to a student panel to find out what life is like during postgraduate study Whatever stage you are at – the Postgrad LIVE Edinburgh study fair can help you. Book your free ticket now for Wednesday, 1 February in Edinburgh.

Book a free ticket on FindAMasters website

Digital Research Services - Lunchtime Seminars

28 February 2023, 12.00-13.00

Our seminar will focus on services and support available to store, organise, transfer data and collaborate within the University of Edinburgh and beyond. Colleagues from Research Services will present the University's data storage options. EDINA GIS experts will provide insight into GIS data and our colleagues from the Software Sustainability Institute will explain how better software leads to better research.

  • mini networking session 11.30-12.00
  • hybrid: Argyle House or Online via MS Teams

Link to event page

Digital Research Services - Early Career Researcher Forum

Next forum meeting: 31 January 2023, 10:30 - 11:30

Followed by: 8 February (15:30-17:30), 22 February (09:30 - 10:30)

Are you an Early Career Researcher looking for support?

The Digital Research Services provide a forum for Early Career Researchers who share an interest in digital research. Join us for an ideas exchange network and digital research skills development forum, encouraging best research practices. The forum meetings are informal and open to all Early Career Researchers and PhD students at the UoE community across schools and colleges.

Link to event details

Robotics, AI, and Pushing the Frontiers of Human Potential

Tue, 31 January 2023, 13:00 – 17:30 GMT


1:20pm - 2:20pm:

  • Welcome, Stewart Miller, CEO of the National Robotarium
  • Dr. Zaki Hussein, XPRIZE Alumni and CEO of Touchlab
  • Keynote by Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE

2:25pm - 3:00pm: Exhibition of select robotics companies

3:05pm - 3:45pm:

  • Prof. Sethu Vijayakumar, ECR & Alan Turing Institute
  • Closing remarks, Craig Samuel, Visit Sponsor

3:50pm - 5:30pm: Networking and exhibition visits

Link to event registration page

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


Interested in outreach in public engagement? Join Informatics Outreach Allies!

Calling all students and staff members interested in outreach and public engagement!

The School is getting queries and calls from local schools, organisations, and festivals looking for scientists to get involved in various outreach and public engagement activites. If you are interested in helping out and spreading the word about your research, perhaps you’d like to become an Outreach Ally? We will have a Teams channel where the calls for help will be advertised and allies will be able to team up and work together.

If you’re interested join the Outreach Allies Team!

Outreach Allies on Teams

Public Engagement Fund from Research Data Scotland 

  • Open for applications – Monday 30th January 
  • Applications close – Friday 24th February 

As part of a wider public engagement strategy with a range of activities, Research Data Scotland (RDS) is announcing a pilot public engagement fund.

This fund is for projects in Scotland that engage with people on data research: to help the public understand the use of data in research, the benefits, and how it works.

Find out more under the link below.

Link to more information about the Public Engagement Fund

Best of InfGeneral

This month's best of inf-general award goes to Geng Lyu who was looking for advice on learning to drive on the left side - and everyone who helped him. We would also like to take the opportunity to remind colleagues that it's the inf-general tradition to share your findings with the rest of inf-generals!

One of the recommended schools was Katherine's Driving School, and someone suggested RED should be avoided. 

Link to Katherine's Driving School website

Advice on how to pass the theory test:

1. The multi-choice part:

2. For the Hazard perception test:

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!

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