Back to Latest News

News Archive : July - September 2011

Clouds of change at York

Date Added: 28th September 2011
As we host the All-Hands Meeting on cloud computing, read more about our research into this developing technology and upcoming launch of an academic pilot system.

A team of York researchers are developing technology to allow academics and industrialists to make better use of computer systems based on the cloud.

In October, the University’s Department of Computer Science will launch youShare (, a pilot system designed to provide all academics with easy access to data and software via the internet.

The revolutionary concept of cloud computing provides businesses, universities and other organisations with a means of increasing capacity or adding capabilities without the need to increase infrastructure or license new software. Cloud providers deliver applications via the internet which are accessed by a web browser, with business software and data being stored in servers at a remote location.

Research into cloud computing at York, led by Professor Jim Austin from the University’s Department of Computer Science, is fundamentally based on 25 years of work into the analysis of large and complex data using neural networks and other pattern recognition methods. To carry out this analysis, researchers require access to large computers and data storage, which led the York team to start to use web based technologies ten years ago.

Initially this was carried out with Rolls-Royce within the DAME project, which involved developing internet based prognostic and diagnostic systems for aero-engines. As part of this project, the team built a demonstration system that showed how users could analyse data from aircraft quickly and effectively using shared computers and the internet. This allowed Rolls-Royce to act on the data from engines far more quickly than before.

The work widened in the CARMEN project ( to allow neuroscientists to share electrophysiology data and software from their experiments, cutting costs and improving re-use of experimental data.

Professor Austin says, “The challenge has been to enable users to make better use of shared computing and storage – the cloud. Instead of using your personal computer the aim is to encourage the use of shared computers, to save cost and energy by cutting carbon, and to allow more effective sharing of both software and hardware.

“By accessing the data and software on a remote machine users can be sure it works, rather than hoping it will run on their own machine.”

CARMEN has a growing user base of over 150 users and is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for another three years.

The work carried out through the CARMEN and DAME projects has encouraged the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to fund the team at York to develop the pilot system youShare. This gives easy access to other researchers’ software and data via the internet, along with the computers and data storage to run them on.

Professor Austin says, “There is a growing trend towards shared services illustrated by the research councils’ insistence to show that existing computers cannot be used before buying new ones on grants. The advantage of youShare is that it’s simple to use, allowing all scientists to make use of this valuable capability.

“To support the youShare platform we have a large computer and data storage system at the University. This will link into the academic cloud under development by HEFCE, JISC and JANET at a national scale by mid next year.”

In recognition of the team’s work, York has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education outstanding research team. The team is also closely involved in a spin-off company, Cybula ltd. which takes research through to market. The company has operated for over 10 years and customers include Bombardier Transportation, Doosan Babcock and Rolls Royce.

You can find out more about the work of the Advanced Computer Architectures research group at

Computer Science up in Sunday Times league table

Date Added: 14th September 2011
We are continuing to progress up the league tables, rising four places to seventh in the Sunday Times.

The Sunday Times looked at such indicators as student satisfaction and graduate employment when compiling the rankings. Student satisfaction scores came from the National Student Survey questions about teaching, academic assessment and feedback.

THE nomination for Advanced Computer Architectures research group

Date Added: 1st September 2011
We’re delighted to announce that we have been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Award in the Outstanding Engineering Research Team of the Year category.

The shortlisted team, led by Professor Jim Austin, based their work on ideas of how the brain works. They have developed a breakthrough technology – AURA – that mimics the brain’s ability to make sense of massive amounts of data. AURA allows large, complex and unstructured data to be stored and searched, uniquely allowing textual, image and signal information to be quickly analysed.

This works using “find one like it” searching, which looks for patterns in past data similar to those found in current data to spot events that have happened before.

AURA has been used with Rolls-Royce on their Aero engines, to analyse patterns of unusual activity. By linking to maintenance logs, AURA helped to show what current data might indicate.

This resulted in a real win for Rolls-Royce: “We presented the results to Boeing who were deciding on their engine providers for the 787 Dream Liner. They were impressed with the technology, and that was one of the factors cited for choosing Rolls-Royce.”

The technology has also been used by the Department of Transport to improve traffic management in London, Kent and York – with a huge potential to improve our movement on the roads.

These successes have led to the creation of a spin-out company, Cybula Ltd., to further develop the application of these ideas in areas including power generation, wind energy systems and medicine.

Congratulations to all involved! You can find out more about the research group at

Worldwide finals for former Computer Science student

Date Added: 24th August 2011
Former Software Engineering graduate, Kevin Pfister, recently created a baby monitoring scheme that sent him all the way to New York – and the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s Imagine Cup.

The project was designed to maintain the correct environment for a baby to enjoy a good night’s sleep and to reduce the chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The Imagine Cup is the world’s premier student technology competition, held annually, and focused on finding solutions to real-world issues. Kevin entered the Child Sleep Safe project in the Embedded Development category – embedded systems are computer systems “embedded” into a device, such as a washing machine or mobile phone. Kevin’s embedded system was a user interface connected to sensors measuring temperature, light, sound and vibrations.

The project got Kevin through the UK Imagine Cup finals and on the path to the worldwide finals, held in New York.

As the only UK finalist and the only one man team in the final, Kevin made an impression on those attending, with the Huffington Post picking him as their favourite to win. This was the second time Kevin had made it to the worldwide finals in the Embedded Development category.

Despite not winning in the finals, Kevin said, “It was an amazing experience – although this was my second year competing, and I didn’t manage to win, I got a lot of great experiences. If anyone is thinking of taking part in the Imagine Cup 2012, which for its 10th anniversary is being held in Australia, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity!”

Kevin would also be willing to mentor the next UK embedded entry, so if there are any budding competitors out there, or you’d just like to know more, check out Kevin’s blog for more information:

You can find out more about our Embedded Systems undergraduate courses at

Towards the cloud: major international conference hosted by Computer Science

Date Added: 16th August 2011
The tenth UK e-Science All Hands Meeting exploring the concept of cloud computing will be held from 26-29 September 2011.

Towards the Cloud - Infrastructures, Applications, Research will bring together over 200 international delegates from industry and the academic community to explore the concept of cloud computing to enable better use of software and data from research and industry.

The main themes will be shared infrastructures, using the cloud in research, end-user engagement and applications, including e-Science, e-social science and research in the arts and humanities.

The meeting will be co-chaired by Professor Jim Austin, from the Department of Computer Science at the University of York and Professor Jie Xu, from the School of Computing at the University of Leeds.

Professor Austin said: “We are very pleased to host such a prestigious event in York and will be welcoming delegates from companies such as Rolls Royce and BT, and from countries including the United States, Germany and Sweden.

“Cloud computing is an exciting development which is now being rolled out world-wide as a major approach to cost-saving in computing – essential in the current economic climate.”

Cloud providers deliver applications via the internet which are accessed by a web browser, with business software and data being stored in servers at a remote location. Cloud provides businesses and other organisations with a means of increasing capacity or adding capabilities without the need to increase infrastructure or license new software.

The event, held in the superb Ron Cooke Hub which sits at the heart of the University’s £750 million campus expansion at Heslington East, will feature keynote presentations, workshop sessions, poster presentations and demonstrations.

The conference has sponsorship from Microsoft, Esteem, Cybula Ltd, the Technology Strategy Board Information and Communications Technologies Knowledge Transfer Network and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as well as workshops run by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

For more information or to register for the conference visit

Could you escape from a black hole?

Date Added: 15th August 2011
New research carried out in Computer Science suggests it might just be possible...

Black holes are objects in space that are so massive and compact they were described by Einstein as “bending” space. Conventional thinking asserts that black holes swallow everything that gets too close and that nothing can escape, but the study by Professor Samuel Braunstein and Dr Manas Patra suggests that information could escape from black holes after all.

The implications could be revolutionary, suggesting that gravity may not be a fundamental force of Nature.

Professor Braunstein says: “Our results didn’t need the details of a black hole’s curved space geometry. That lends support to recent proposals that space, time and even gravity itself may be emergent properties within a deeper theory. Our work subtly changes those proposals, by identifying quantum information theory as the likely candidate for the source of an emergent theory of gravity.”

But quantum mechanics is the theory of light and atoms, and many physicists are sceptical that it could be used to explain the slow evaporation of black holes without incorporating the effects of gravity.

The research, which appears in the latest issue of Physical Review Letters, uses the basic tenets of quantum mechanics to give a new description of information leaking from a black hole.

Professor Braunstein says: “Our results actually extend the predictions made by well-established techniques that rely on a detailed knowledge of space time and black hole geometry.”

Dr Patra adds: “We cannot claim to have proven that escape from a black hole is truly possible, but that is the most straight-forward interpretation of our results. Indeed, our results suggest that quantum information theory will play a key role in a future theory combining quantum mechanics and gravity.”

The paper ‘Black hole evaporation rates without space-time’ by Professor Samuel Braunstein and Dr Manas Patra will appear in the August 12, 2011 edition of Physical Review Letters at

New EPSRC PhD studentship available in quantum cryptography

Date Added: 4th August 2011
The topic for the studentship is Security Analysis of Quantum Key Distribution Protocols, based within the Non-Standard Computation research group in Computer Science.

Under supervisors Professor Sam Braunstein and Dr Stefano Pirandola, the successful candidate will focus on studying the most recent and powerful continuous variable quantum key distribution protocols, analysing their security against the most general eavesdropping attacks.

The EPSRC funding for applicants provides a tax free stipend of at least £13,590 per year and UK/EU student fee award for the three years' study period. Candidates may also apply to participate in paid teaching support. The host group has an annual budget support for international travel and conference attendance.

The closing date for this studentship is now closed. If you'd like more information about how to apply for a PhD to study Computer Science at York, you can visit

Psychology of Programming Annual Conference hosted at York

Date Added: 3rd August 2011
6-8 September 2011 sees Computer Science host the annual conference of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group.

The Psychology of Programming Interest Group (PPIG) Annual Conference brings together those interested in not only the psychology of programming and software engineering, but also in psychological aspects of related activities where people meet formal structures. The conference consists of keynote addresses by eminent practitioners in the relevant fields, discussion panels, software demonstrations and seminar-like presentations.

Part of the event is also a doctoral consortium for research students at all stages of doctoral study. Social aspects of the programme include a guided tour of York and a conference dinner.

PPIG was established in 1987 to bring together people from diverse communities to explore common interests in the psychological aspects of programming and/or in computational aspects of psychology. The group, which at present numbers approximately 300 worldwide, includes cognitive scientists, psychologists, computer scientists, software engineers, software developers, HCI researchers, from both universities and industry.

Visit the website for more information about the event. Here you will be directed to the online booking, which includes a special rate for students.

Royal Academy honour for Computer Science Professor

Date Added: 18th July 2011
Congratulations to Professor Jim Woodcock, who has been elected to the Royal Academy of Engineering.

He was among 59 Fellows to be elected to the Royal Academy, and these Fellows represent the most eminent names in the profession from the UK and overseas in the discipline.

Professor Woodcock, who holds the Anniversary Chair of Software Engineering, carries out research into industrial-scale software engineering and teaches on the Msc in Software Engineering.

He said, “I’m delighted to have been recognised by this honour. Being made a Fellow of the Royal Academy and my work at York will combine to help the Academy’s aim to promote excellence in engineering.”

Professor Woodcock's citation from the Academy reads: "Distinguished for elucidation of sound mathematical principles underlying the practice of software engineering. His research method is based on interactions between abstract theory, pilot development, industrial collaboration, consultancy, tool development, and practical evaluation. He leads the experimental strand of the Verified Software Initiative."