Informatics Newsletter May 2021

Issue 46 of our School newsletter for students and staff.

A Message from the Head of School

Photo of Jane Hillston sitting at a desk

Dear Colleagues,

There is a saying, attributed to Heraclitus, that no man ever steps in the same river twice, and there should probably be an analogous saying for Universities.  As we approach the end of the academic year, and some of our students will be graduating and moving on to the next stage of their lives, I am particularly conscious of the flow of students through the School.  So whilst some things stay largely the same — the structure of the academic year, the buildings, the Edinburgh First catering…. — the core of the University, which is the people, is in constant flux.  It is not just that students are on a journey through their degree.  The School is always changing.  Many staff, particularly the research staff, are only in the School for a limited amount of time.  By its very nature, research is ever changing, sometimes almost imperceptibly, but moving forward nevertheless.  More than some other disciplines, teaching in Informatics is also subject to continual change, as the state of the art is rapidly evolving.  So the School is very much a river in the sense of Heraclitus. 

What people often don’t remember is that Heraclitus does not only observe that the river is ever-changing, but also that the man changes.  For our graduating students, I would invite you to think back to when you first joined the School four or five years ago and acknowledge how much you have changed.  As a personal tutor, I always enjoy sharing this journey with my personal tutees.  It will not just be the subject material that you have learned and the technical skills you have acquired.  The whole experience will have changed you.  This is also true for staff.  Many of us work in the University because it is an environment where there are always opportunities for new skills, new experiences and new relationships.  Most of my personal tutees are graduating this year and I wish them, and all the rest of this year’s graduands, the very best for the future; at the same time I look forward to welcoming some new personal tutees in the autumn.

Who we are as a School is forever changing, but somehow also remaining the same.  What remains constant are our values and ambitions.  And what maintains those are the wonderful people of Informatics.  Thank you to everyone.

With best wishes,


New Staff

Professional Services

Eddie Wilkinson started as Special Projects Manager on 19th April

Research Staff

Felipe Costa Sperb started as Research Associate with AIAI on 1st May

Longfei Chen started as Research Associate with IPAB on 10th May

Philip Heslop started as Research Associate with ILCC on 14th May

Sabine Oechsner started as a Research Associate with LFCS on 17th May

Sigrid Dupan started as a Research Associate with ANC on 18th May


Informatics Staff Awards

Throughout this difficult year, we have many “heroes” in the School — people who have gone beyond satisfying the requirements of their job to make a great contribution to our community. Therefore we are instigating the first Informatics Staff Awards.

You are invited to nominate colleagues (individuals or teams) who have offered outstanding performance during the period of the pandemic. This may be through taking additional work to support their team, students or colleagues, or through putting extra effort into ensuring that we maintain our School community.  

The nomination should be submitted using the form below. Nominations will be accepted until midnight on Thursday 4th June.

All categories of staff are eligible both to nominate and to be nominated, including teaching support staff.

There will be a number of small awards and everyone who is nominated will be notified

Nominate here

Covid-19 Testing

Free Covid-19 tests are available to all campus-based students and staff under the Scottish Government and UK Government’s testing programme and in the University's TestEd Research programme. Details of how to access the service and why testing is important in the blog below.

Covid-19 testing at the University

Lateral flow tests  

In partnership with the Scottish Government, all staff and students have access to rapid, twice-weekly testing using a lateral flow device, even if they have no symptoms.  Students and staff who are attending campus are encouraged to use this service, based at The Pleasance. TestEd testing can be carried out in addition to lateral flow testing. The Scottish Government is also providing kits for use at home for everyone living in Scotland.   

University testing website  

Scottish Government testing  

More on TestEd 


Students give their time to the Turing Trust - and so can you!

A group of three people in facemasks in a warehouse

Three groups of Informatics students (and a staff rep: Ian Simpson) contributed their time to help prepare refurbished computers for dispatch to Africa. Their work included testing donated computers, sorting cables and repacking the kits. As a result of the volunteering and the recent work of the Turing Trust, around 500 PCs are now ready to be shipped to Malawi. This means that around 9,000 more students will learn vital IT skills. Beyond this, the environmental impact from these PCs will offset 140 tonnes of CO2 emissions, which is the equivalent of planting 350 trees.

James Turing said: "We've been delighted to work with several groups of volunteers from the School of Informatics over the last few weeks. Together they've put in a huge amount of work in testing and packing some of our IT equipment.”

Zhuocheng Zheng, MSc in Data Science student who was helping on 17th May observed that the volunteering created a perfect opportunity to connect with fellow students, as there have been so few chances to do so this academic year making it particularly hard for Master's students. Weixiao Huang, Computer Science and Management Science student, added: “Helping others actually helps yourself.”

Staff are encouraged to use the opportunity to volunteer with the Turing Trust who the School has supported since 2018. 

The Turing Trust are seeking volunteers on Thursday 27th May and Monday 31st May (10 am - 4 pm) to help them prepare IT equipment to be installed in schools. Working in a small team (4 or 5), over the course of the day you'll learn about their IT refurbishment processes whilst helping to get dozens of PCs ready for their next shipment, sending these vital supplies to students in Malawi. 

There are 5 slots available on each session, so to book a place, please add your name to the poll below (please make sure to check with your line manager first)

Volunteering for the Turing Trust sign up form

You would need to come prepared to work with some slightly dusty computers, so wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty and that will keep you warm as the warehouse can get quite chilly.  

Every staff member is entitled to take one day of paid leave each year to volunteer: A Day to Make a Difference. To use your day, you need to request it through People and Money. When adding the absence, choose ‘Special Paid Leave’, then ‘Volunteering Activities’. You can use your day at any time during the year, and it must be signed off by your line manager. Increasing the take-up of A Day to Make a Difference is a key commitment in the University’s new Community Plan. If we all used our day of paid leave, we would collectively give back more than 100,000 hours back to our local communities. 

Research Data Management Update

*Open Access requirements*

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 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.

Contact the RDM Team

Student news

First-year Computer Science student wins poster competition with her insight into emotion AI

Purvi Harwani, a first-year Computer Science student won the first-year student poster contest at the annual BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium for her poster "Hey Siri, I don’t feel too good!"

The BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium is a free, one day conference for women undergraduates and taught master's students. 2021 was their 14th event and it was online, hosted by Lancaster University on Tuesday, March 30th. Tutors are encouraged to sign up for their announcements and encourage their tutees to participate in future colloquia.

Read more on the School website (includes recording of the winning poster presentation)

Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science student in the finals of Future CFO of the Year competition

Alistair Tait, 1st-year student of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science placed in the final of Future CFO of the Year category in the TARGETjobs UK Undergraduate of the Year Awards.

The Future CFO category is partnered by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and the organisers are looking for business and finance savvy students who possess a variety of skills and personal qualities that will help them become a future business leader. Examples of these skills and qualities are a commercial mind and entrepreneurial spirit, an interest in how finance adds value to a business, good ethics, integrity and morals, high aspirations and the desire to make an impact on your life and others, creativity, communication skills and a high level of digital literacy and a growth mindset.

Read the full story on our website

Staff news

Vlad and Sethu in AvatarXPrize semi-finals

Dr Vladimir Ivan (lead roboticist) and Professor Sethu Vijayakumar (scientific advisor) from Statistical Learning and Motor Control Group, as part of the AvatarX team led by Edinburgh startup Touchlab, qualified for the semifinals of the Avatar XPrize. They are among 38 teams from 16 countries (only 2 from the UK). Semifinal testing will take place in September 2021, where teams will demonstrate their system capabilities and compete to become one of up to 20 teams to advance to the finals in summer 2022. The Avatar XPrize aims to create an avatar system that can transport human presence to a remote location in real-time. The prize purse is $10M. The Edinburgh team is developing a mobile remotely operated robot with a unique capability of touch combined advanced shared control. 

Read the story on SLMC website

Ram collaborates on study looking into doctor's perception of working with robots

COVIBOT: Robotic Strategies for Monitoring and Disinfection of COVID-19 environments, REng-funded international project co-investigated by Ram Ramamoorthy in a collaboration with a number of South American universities has produced a paper accepted to be published by Frontiers in Robotics and AI - Biomedical Robotics. The grant was funded under the Engineering X Pandemic Preparedness scheme. The project looked into assessing healthcare providers’ perceptions and acceptance of implementing robotics applications to overcome the potential hazards and risks in hospital environments, specifically for COVID-19 control in clinic scenarios. The study (carried out in Colombia) revealed that levels of knowledge about robotics applications in this scenario are low and the fear of being replaced by robots remains in the medical community. However, 82.9 % of participants indicated a positive perception concerning the development and implementation of robotics in clinic environments. The project team found that, generally, the participants exhibited a positive attitude towards using robots and recommended them to be used. Ram advised the primary research team in Colombia on the design of the robotic systems, and the conduct of experiments.

Read the full article on the School website

Abstract of the paper

Jacques gets funding to study multimorbidity

Jacques Fleuriot, Sohan Seth and Valerio Restocchi with collaborators in Usher Institute, GeoSciences and SSPS were awarded £3.9M over 3-years by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to work on their project Artificial Intelligence and Multimorbidity: Clustering in Individuals, Space and Clinical Context (AIM-CISC). The project will employ 4 PDRAs in Informatics, with another 7-8 across the other Schools. Informatics investigators will be working on various AI aspects. Long-term conditions are health issues which persist over years, with many people having more than one long-term condition (e.g. having both diabetes and asthma). This is known as multimorbidity and often seriously affects how well people feel and what they are able to do. The aim of the project is to use Artificial Intelligence techniques — spanning areas such as Machine learning, Knowledge Graphs and process mining -- along with social science and health service research methods, to create a better understanding of common, disabling patterns of multimorbidity and help improve the quality and safety of care. 

Diego collaborates on a study looking into 'weak spots' in cancer cells

Diego Oyarzun is a co-author of a PNAS paper led by Imperial College scientists that explores ‘weak spots' in cancer cells recovering from chemotherapy. Tumour cells notoriously withstand the toxic effects of chemotherapy thus making cancer therapies ineffective. Scientists observed the different molecular events taking place within stressed myeloma cells – an incurable form of bone marrow cancer. The findings reveal that these recovering cells show specific vulnerabilities which could be exploited to improve cancer therapies. The Edinburgh team supported machine learning by combining Gaussian processes and graph diffusions to do unsupervised clustering of time series data. As a starting point, they were given ~15k time series (one series per gene in the cell), with each one having 7-time points. This is a huge amount of data and difficult to analyse by the naked eye. To resolve this, they converted the data into the network graph, which condenses all that huge data into a compact and visually clear form (one of the figures in the paper). In the next step, they applied network clustering algorithms to the network in the figure to discover the six dominant ‘patterns’ of responses. Basically, each pattern illustrates how the genes respond differently to the drug treatment. One of those patterns revealed a new vulnerability in cells, which can be targeted with a second drug to prevent cells from recovering.

Read the story on the School website

Paper in PNAS

ASF and GDR RSD Thesis Prize for ICSA RA

Djob Mvondo, a research associate working with Antonio Barbalace in ICSA received the ASF and GDR RSD Thesis Prize for his PhD thesis ’Resilience and sizing in virtualized environments’. The thesis concerns virtualization of cloud computing platforms. It relies on a low-level kernel called the hypervisor (e.g. Xen) which allows executing several virtual machines (VM) on a physical machine. The goal of the research was to develop several mechanisms to address problems related to this hypervisor architecture and measure the gain in performance in different domains.

Djob recently obtained PhD. in computer science under the supervision of Prof. Noel De Palma (LIP, UGA/CNRS/Inria) and Prof. Alain Tchana (LIP, ENS de Lyon/CNRS/Inria/UCBL). His research interests include virtualization, cloud computing, and operating systems. He is the joint winner with Agathe Blaise and Redha Gouicem. The winners are invited to present their work at the next GDR RSD days.

The GDR "Networks and Distributed Systems" (RSD) and the Association "ACM SIGOPS France" (ASF) organise each year a thesis prize in networks and distributed systems in order to encourage and promote research in this field and more specifically to reward the best doctoral work on these subjects.

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

CSE Public Engagement update

Call for inputs - POST's upcoming work programme

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) board has approved nine new POSTnotes, which cover topics such as Blue Carbon, Energy Sector Digitalisation, Genome Editing and Food, Pesticides and Health, and Space Defence. To produce POSTnotes, advisers and fellows talk to a variety of stakeholders from industry, government, academia, and the third sector. The POSTnote is POST’s flagship report. It is an impartial, evidenced four-page briefing reviewing emerging areas of research. There are different ways to contribute to a POSTnote as an expert. Researchers can get involved by contributing with literature, with expertise, or as a peer-reviewer.

To see the complete range of topics, including other work in production by the POST team (e.g. digital tech, security and defence) visit the POSTnote page

To see how you can contribute towards any of the topics, review the advice (below).

POST website


Advice for contributors

Funding - Maths Week Scotland Small Grants Fund, deadline: 3rd Jun

The Maths Week Scotland Small Grants Fund is a partnership between the Edinburgh Mathematical Society, the Glasgow Mathematical Journal Trust and the Scottish Government Learning Directorate providing financial support to encourage Maths Week Scotland-related activity, participation and innovation in 2021. The focus week of maths activities and events will take place from 27th Sept to 3rd Oct. (Another funding round will be available in mid-Aug.)

The Fund is open to organisations, partnerships and individuals that require support to participate in, or to lead the development of activity for Maths Week Scotland 2021 at local, regional and national levels. For University applicants, there is an upper limit of £2k.

Further details, including a guidance document and the application process, are available through the link below. The deadline for applications is 3rd Jun. 

Other potential funding for public engagement projects can be found on the NCCPE website.

Maths Week Scotland 2021

Small Grants Fund

NCCPE funding

Training - Parliament for Researchers, exploring select committee evidence, 9th Jun

Join this focused online training session to explore how select committees use research findings and expertise as evidence, and how you as a researcher can engage. The role of committee specialist advisors will also be covered. It is hosted by the UK Parliament's Knowledge Exchange Unit with expert speakers from the House of Commons and the House of Lords select committee offices. The session is focused on practical information and advice, with opportunities for Q&A. This session will be recorded and available on the Parliament website to watch after the event.

Book your tickets

Parliament website: online webinars

Training - Talking about Disability and Inclusion, 15th Jun

Part of the public engagement training programme in the Institute of Genetics and Cancer, this workshop is an introduction to disability awareness and digital inclusion. You will learn about words to use, the social model of disability, and accessibility. In addition, participants will discuss how to develop inclusive and accessible online engagement with disabled people. The workshop will be led by Dr Amy Kavanagh, an award-winning disability campaigner and freelance consultant.

To join the event, which will take place 10am-12noon on 15th Jun, please email Dee Davison for the meeting link.

Amy Kavanagh

E-mail Dee

Resources - practical online safeguarding guidance

The University's Widening Participation team, in collaboration with the CSE's Public Engagement Advisory Group, have developed best practice guidelines around online engagement activity. Although the documents - including the main guidelines, a checklist, and a reporting concerns template - are primarily concerned with online engagement involving children, young people (18 and under) and protected adults, the key principles are fundamental for the engagement of anyone external to the University. Safeguarding is not only about considering the people we are engaging, it is also about ensuring that University staff and students are not leaving themselves in vulnerable situations.

The guidelines cover PVG checks, staffing ratios, recording sessions, considering risk, using video/audio, reporting concerns, and many other matters. You can access the guidelines through the WP Team SharePoint, the look of which may change over the next couple of weeks! (These documents supersede any previous versions you may have seen from the Widening Participation team: some minor tweaks have been made.)

Resources - identifying Widening Participation priority schools

If you are in the process of delivering (or planning to deliver) science engagement activities for Scottish secondary schools and colleges, then you might benefit from being aware of the priority institutions identified by our Widening Participation colleagues.

The Widening Participation team have used factors such as the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, progression rates to higher education, and levels of poverty (illustrated by free school meals eligibility for example) to identify three different groups of priority schools in different Scottish regions. Before getting in touch with any of these schools, it would be worth coordinating with the Widening Participation team to ensure that opportunities are distributed between schools, rather than stretching the capacity of any single school.

Priority Schools and Colleges

Email WP team

Resources - Scottish Science Festivals list

Our list of science festivals across Scotland - including details and details about the application processes - has been updated again. You can find the May 2021 version of the list below

Scottish Science Festivals [refresh the page if you see an earlier version of this list]

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 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, as some of us will now be more present in their offices, we have looked into coffee and lunch spots around the Informatics Buildings that are now open for collection or dining in.

Government update and open lunch spots 

InfComms blog

Best of InfGeneral

This month's Best of Inf-general award goes to Michael Mistry and all colleagues sharing advice and resources about getting vaccinated for those who are still waiting. 

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


The newsletter is produced by the Communications team.

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