Informatics Newsletter June 2023

Issue 69 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

A Message from Head of School

Jane Hillston

Dear All,


As the academic year comes towards its end there are a few more opportunities to take part in traditional ceremonial activities of the University.  Last week I was very pleased to be a member of the procession at the ceremonial installation of the Rector, Deborah Kayembe.  Deborah, a human rights lawyer, was elected as Rector of the University in 2021, but due to Covid restrictions her formal installation could not take place until last week.  She is the 54th Rector of the University, only the third woman and the first person of colour to be elected to the role.  The ceremony, held in the Playfair Library, was a mix of Scottish academic tradition with elements of African culture mixed in.  The procession was followed a Ghanaian drummer and the ceremonial installation was followed by much ululation from the many members of the Democratic Republic of Congo diaspora, Deborah’s family and friends, who were in the audience.  I felt proud to be part of a ceremony that demonstrated the University’s commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion.  Because of Covid, Deborah’s term as Rector has just one more year to run.  Next year there will be another Rectorial election and all staff and students of the University will be invited to vote.  I hope that we will again make an enlightened and inclusive choice.

Next week our annual summer ceremony will take place: the graduation ceremony in McEwan Hall.  As well as our fourth and fifth-year students who have completed their degrees, and PhD students who have completed since last November, we will also be graduating to honorary graduands.  We have two outstanding women as our graduands at this ceremony: Justine Cassell and Kate Ho.  Justine is a Professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University and also holds the founding international chair at PRAIRIE, the Paris Institute on Interdisciplinary Research in AI.  She has been at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research in dialogue system for over 30 years.  Kate is an alumna from the School of Informatics who had a profound impact on the School when she was here, and has gone on to become an inspirational leader and energetic advocate for helpful technology since.  In 2005, whilst still an undergraduate, she founded both CompSoc and Hoppers, student-led societies that continue to this day.  Through her career since graduating she has founded several companies, worked in government and industry, and currently Head of Product (Data Platform and Products) at the BBC.  I am very pleased that we will be honouring these women next week and look forward to celebrating with them.

With best wishes,


New staff

Current vacancies

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



Jane Hillston

Jane Hillston recognised in King’s Birthday Honours

Professor Jane Hillston, Head of School of Informatics, was awarded a MBE in the King’s Birthday Honours List for services to computer science and to women in science.

Jane is among more than 1,000 recipients who have been awarded honours for their outstanding contributions across all sectors and parts of the UK.

Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence have great potential to drive positive change within society.  In my career, I have worked to ensure that there is diversity in the discipline and that we as informaticians use our influence to support good decision making.  I am delighted and humbled that this work has been recognised by an honour in the King’s first birthday honours list.

Professor Jane HillstonHead of the School of Informatics



 Diego Oyarzún

AI algorithms find trio of drugs that could fight effects of ageing

Informatics researchers lead a breakthrough study that suggests that three drugs could help stave off the effects of ageing. The drugs have been discovered using artificial intelligence (AI).

A trio of chemicals that target faulty cells linked to a range of age-related conditions were found using the pioneering method, which is hundreds of times cheaper than standard screening methods, researchers say.

This study demonstrates that AI can be incredibly effective in helping us identify new drug candidates, particularly at early stages of drug discovery and for diseases with complex biology or few known molecular targets.

Co-author Dr Diego Oyarzún, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics and School of Biological Sciences

This work was borne out of intensive collaboration between data scientists, chemists and biologists. Harnessing the strengths of this interdisciplinary mix, we were able to build robust models and save screening costs by using only published data for model training. I hope this work will open new opportunities to accelerate the application of this exciting technology.

Lead author Dr Vanessa Smer-Barreto, of the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Genetics and Cancer and School of Informatics

Link to full article

Informatics staff nominated for Teaching Awards

Almost 30 colleagues received nominations for this year's EUSA Teaching Awards, you can find their names below.

EUSA announced the winners of their Teaching Awards last month.

Link to EUSA Teaching Awards

Research Data Management update

Monthly office hour

From June, the team will be offering a monthly office hour via Teams. These sessions are primarily targeted at recently joined staff, but are open to all. The team will provide an overview of Pure and Open Access for new staff, and invite anyone to ask questions as they relate to these.

The first office hour will be Thursday 29 June at 15:00. The link to join the meeting is below.

Link to join meeting on MS Teams

As always, please continue to send details of recently accepted papers to the team by clicking on the button below.

Email RDM team

People and Culture update

Decorating offices

The School of Informatics fully supports you personalising your office. You are welcome to hang posters or decorate the way that brings you most joy. However, as we all share the building, there are some limits to customising.

Link to full guidelines

Student news

From ATMs to assistive robotics: KAL lends expertise to judge student design project showcase

Each year, undergraduate students at the School of Informatics plan and implement complete systems that solve everyday problems via assistive robotics. Throughout the 12-week project, teams develop software, user interfaces, mock-ups and hardware to execute their vision. The end goal is to demonstrate a system that can perform useful autonomous tasks with commercial potential. The main event is a showcase where groups present their work to peers, mentors and industry guests for review.

KAL, one of the School of Informatics' long term supporters, judges and sponsors, have written about their experience of helping at the showcase.

Link to full article

Staff news

James Garforth gives a talk about tech ethics

James Garforth gave a pedagogy talk (submitted in collaboration with Benedetta Catanzariti, from STIS) about the ecosystem of tech ethics at Edinburgh, and the efforts made in the redesign of third year courses (Professional Issues and the System Design Project) to further develop students ethical capabilities at the Tech Ethics Exchange North East (Texne) conference hosted by three world leading tech ethics education teams at Harvard, MIT and Northeastern in May. The conference aims to be a place for sharing of the state of the art in both interdisciplinary research and interdisciplinary teaching delivery.

‘This was a wonderful opportunity to meet leaders in the field and share our approaches to teaching student about tech ethics. I've come away with lots of motivation to continuing embedding this into the curriculum in Informatics.’

James Garfort, University Teacher

New Textbook "Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning: Foundations and Modern Approaches"

A new textbook to be published by MIT Press, PDF pre-print available now.

A new textbook titled "Multi-Agent Reinforcement Learning: Foundations and Modern Approaches" written by IPAB members Stefano V. Albrecht, Filippos Christianos, and Lukas Schäfer, to be published by MIT Press. The PDF pre-print version of the book was released at the start of the AAMAS 2023 and ICRA 2023 conferences.

Link to PDF pre-print version of the book

Link to Autonomous Agents Research Group website

Vaishak Belle

Oxford Global interview with Vaishak Belle on explainable AI and ethics

Vaishak Belle, Chancellor’s Fellow and Reader at the School of Informatics, discusses his work on explainable AI and ethics in an interview with Oxford Global.

Subramanian Ramamoorthy

Ram Ramamoorthy shares what motorists need to know about self-drive cars in article for The Scottish Sun

Ford's BlueCruise handsfree driving system is being introduced in the UK. 

Professor Ram Ramamoorthy says it won’t take long for drivers to place their trust in machines in an article by the Scottish Sun on self-drive cars.

Link to full article


Outreach and Public Engagement

Tell us about your recent outreach and public engagement activity

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

Call for Ideas – Edinburgh Science Festival 2024

This is an open call offering you the chance to be part of the 2024 Edinburgh Science Festival, which will run from Saturday 30 March – Sunday 14 April with the theme of Shaping the Future.

Celebrating the power and potential that human creativity, collaboration, innovation and play have to change our world for the better, the 2024 Edinburgh Science Festival will explore the roles of science, technology and their creative cousins in tackling the challenges and seizing the opportunities that our ever-changing world presents. 

The call is open to anyone – individuals, groups or organisations – with bright ideas and a passion for communicating them. We are looking for participants from diverse fields across the sciences, arts and cultural sectors.

The submission deadline is midnight on Sunday 10 September 2023.  On the page below you'll find all the information you need to find out more about what we're looking for, how to submit a proposal to us and who to get in touch with if you have any questions.

Edinburgh Science Festival Call for Ideas

If you'd like to discuss your Science Festival idea, please get in touch with Kasia Kokowska.

Email Kasia

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 activities. 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

Best of Inf-general

This month's best of inf-general goes to Amir Vaxman for debunking the Divergence Theorem.

Below is Amir's reasoning:

The fundamental divergence theorem intuitively states that the amount of material inside a closed volume only changes by the net inflow (or outflow; convention varies from physicists to computer scientists!). Unfortunately, I find empirical refutations to the rule on a daily basis, as the (clearly-marked) Soy milk I leave in the 1st floor’s refrigerator depletes much faster than I consume. The refuter is seemingly so eager to disproof the divergence theorem that they often break the seal before I get the chance to. While I’d be happy to collaborate on publishing this groundbreaking result that will change math forever, I currently have other plans for the summer, and for the time being wish to concentrate on using exactly what I bought.

Amir Vaxman

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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