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News Archive : July - September 2013

Royal Society recognition for outstanding York Computer Science academic

Date Added: 30th August 2013
Professor John Clark, Deputy Head of Department (responsible for research) in the Department of Computer Science at York, has received a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award.

Jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the scheme supports scientists of outstanding achievement and potential to ensure the vitality of research within the UK. Professor Clark is one of only 22 scientists to be appointed in this round.

His work concentrates on the application of techniques from Operations Research and Artificial Intelligence to systems and software design and analysis tasks. In particular, he has worked with outstanding scientists within the UK and internationally to contribute to the field of Search Based Software Engineering, and currently contributes to the emerging field of Dynamic Adaptive Automated Software Engineering.

Professor Clark’s vision supported by the award seeks to further promote search based approaches to problem solving within contemporary software and systems development, but also aims to reach out to other disciplines.

He intends, for example, to work with quantum physicists to investigate search based approaches to quantum algorithm discovery and with nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy experts to seek radio frequency pulse sequences with excellent information revealing properties. The goal is to use computer based search to find the solutions to problems that equal or surpass those that come from researchers’ thought alone.

Professor Clark is a member of York’s Non-Standard Computation Group in the Department of Computer Science, and of the interdisciplinary York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA). He says: “It is a great honour to receive a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Award and I am excited about researching the application of search based approaches to solving problems in chemistry and physics as well as within my own discipline.”

The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science. For further information visit

Further information on new awardees of the Wolfson Research Merit Award scheme can be found at

For further information on Professor John Clark and his research interests, visit

Celebrating 40 years at the University of York

Date Added: 2nd August 2013
Join us for a special event to celebrate 40 years at the University of York for Professor Colin Runciman.

Professor Runciman, currently Deputy Head of Department for Teaching at the Department of Computer Science, began his career with us as an undergraduate in Mathematics and Computation. He continued his study with a PhD in theoretical Computer Science and has had an academic career in York, culminating in a promotion to Professor and then Deputy Head of Department (Teaching) in 2012.

To celebrate this career at York, the Department of Computer Science is hosting a special event on Wednesday 23 October. The event will celebrate Colin's research and teaching career, and will include a number of talks given by invited speakers, including some of Colin's former students. Take a look at the schedule for the event at

The event is free to attend, but you must register for a free ticket in order to help us to order enough tea, cake and drinks for all those who come to celebrate with Colin. To register for your free ticket, go to

We hope as many of Colin's colleagues and current and former students will be able to join us in the celebration of an outstanding academic career at York.

Computer Science academics named by students as Teacher of the Year and Inspirational Lecturer

Date Added: 26th July 2013
The Excellence in Teaching and Supervision Awards, run by York's Student Union, were awarded from nominations from students.

Congratulations to both Dr Mike Freeman, who was awarded the highly prized Teacher of the Year, and Professor Colin Runciman, who was highly commended as Inspirational Lecturer.

This is the sixth year that the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) has invited students to nominate members of staff for these awards. Students also decide who wins the award.

Professor Jim Woodcock, Head of the Department of Computer Science, said: “These awards are a great achievement, as academics are nominated by their own students. We are all delighted that the inspirational teaching of Mike Freeman and Colin Runciman has been recognised in this way.”

Here's some of the nominations from students about Mike:

"Goes above and beyond what is required, makes lectures interesting and labs even more interesting. Helps with aspect of the course not even related to his subject, altogether a brilliant lecturer."

"Genuine enthusiasm across both modules taught to first years (ICAR&DCD), willingness to help as often and for as long as possible, within his modules and beyond them. He does a brilliant job of explaining concepts, and is approachable the times he mightn't have gotten the point across. His lectures are interesting, relevant, and keep the student's interest across a topic that can, for some including myself, a little uninspiring and that won't have been the selling point of the course for many. In short, he's enthusiastic, extraordinarily hard-working, approachable, helpful, and knows his stuff."

"Has supported us greatly by investing lots of his own time to help with assessments, and not just those that he assigned. A great lecturer, great teacher and all round great person who will always try help with any problems with an awesome attitude and clear passion to the subject. Couldn't have asked for a better teacher, and would have found it much harder to get through hardware without him. And who could say no to that smile?"

"Seemingly never busy if we need help in his module or any other area of computer science, always willing to have a chat almost regardless of the topic. Always has a smile to present to students, always cheerful and popping the odd joke. A great all-around lecturer and professor in practicals."

Here's some of the nominations from student about Colin:

"The only possible person who could make the learning of maths in computer science fun. His ability to communicate and teach concepts is outstanding and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't absolutely love him. Nice, funny, helpful, all round great man. It's hard to come up with more ways to say that this guy rocks. Also if there was an award for best moustache, Colin would win hands down."

"His lectures were presented in a very clear and easy to understand way. His speeches offered an "alternate" view over mathematics, helping our overall comprehension."

"Most entertaining lectures; it's hard not to enjoy Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science with him. Great man."

"For being an unbelievably motivational and inspirational speaker. Somehow Colin has the ability to capture everyone's attention from his very first words."

Congratulations to them both!

Fully funded PhD available in reinforced learning for safety-critical applications

Date Added: 18th July 2013
Supported by the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL), this four year fully funded PhD is now open for applications from UK/EU students.

The PhD topic is Assured Reinforcement Learning for the Development and Predictable Operation of Autonomous Software Agents for Safety-Critical Applications and the successful candidate will pursue research under the supervision of Dr. Radu Calinescu and Dr. Daniel Kudenko. The successful applicant will have their fees paid and receive an above average tax-free stipend of 13,726 p.a. (with the corresponding standard increases in subsequent years). The studentship also includes a generous provision for visits at research collaborators, and for travel to conferences.

Reinforcement learning has long been used to develop software agents capable of adaptive behaviour in scenarios characterised by incomplete knowledge and non-deterministic change. Successful commercial applications bear witness to the effectiveness of the approach. Nevertheless, this success has so far eluded the important class of safety-critical applications. Despite significant demand and promising preliminary results, the adoption of reinforcement learning in safety-critical applications has rarely progressed beyond simulation and testing.

Two major limitations of existing reinforced learning approaches led to this lack of adoption. First, they are unable to guarantee compliance with requirements, which is a key demand for safety-critical. Second, they produce autonomous agents whose actions are difficult to understand by their human stakeholders, and therefore difficult to trust even when correct.

This PhD project will address these limitations, enabling the exploitation of reinforcement learning in the safety-critical domain. The project will devise a framework comprising a theoretical foundation and practical techniques for assured reinforcement learning, by integrating complementary recently developed techniques from the areas of knowledge-based reinforcement learning and runtime quantitative verification. The assured reinforcement learning framework delivered by the project will be validated in real-world case studies developed jointly with DSTL.

We are seeking a highly motivated candidate who should have, or expect to be awarded, a first-class or 2.1 degree or a master’s degree in Computer Science, Mathematics or a related area of science. Preferred skills include a strong mathematical background, a keen interest in programming, and excellent writing, communication, presentation and organization skills. The studentship is open to UK and EU nationals.

Applications must be submitted online and please state "ARL DSTL Studentship" in the "Funding Information" section of the form. The deadline for applications is Friday 16 August 2013.

For informal enquiries about the PhD project and studentship, contact Dr. Radu Calinescu ( or Dr. Daniel Kudenko (

Work placements give York Computer Science students a competitive edge

Date Added: 16th July 2013
A three-week corporate placement is providing some of our undergraduate students with a competitive advantage in the job market – and proving valuable to businesses too.

All our second year undergraduate students have the chance to take up a three-week placement with software and digital sector employers as part of their degree course.

The corporate practice placement provides a win-win situation for all involved - students are able to enhance their employability, while employers gain access to outstanding students.

Dr Antony Powell, from YorkMetrics, one of the companies taking part in the scheme, said: “Corporate experience placements enabled us to tackle some small novel projects and identify new talent to join our team. It's an ideal way for us to help students gain valuable skills and experience, while delivering real benefits to our business."

Dr Paul Gibson, from PureNet Solutions Limited, said: “The Department of Computer Science corporate placement scheme was a very positive experience for us. The student who worked with us proved to be an asset to the company for the short time they were here and we believe this also reflected the high standard expected of all the students on the course.”

For students, the placements provide invaluable real world experience and the chance to collaborate with experts.

Undergraduate Computer Science student Christopher King said: “The corporate practice scheme allows real experience in the work place and is a great way to test the skills you have acquired over your course in a safe and relaxed environment.

"I thoroughly enjoyed my placement, as the staff created a great atmosphere that encouraged questions and praised the inquisitive. It was a mini-internship that while short, provided me with a wealth of experiences.”

Fellow undergraduate Mihaela Maior added: “I gained lots of experience which contributed to me getting a summer internship, created new contacts with people in this area and also gained a lot of confidence after seeing the effects of my work in a real life project.”

The University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Business and Community, Professor Colin Mellors, said: “We’re committed to ensuring that our students graduate with the skills they’ll need to succeed in today’s challenging knowledge-based economy. The fact that so many leading employers continue to support work placements demonstrates the value they place on our graduates.”