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News Archive : October - December 2013

New centre to produce tomorrow’s leaders in games development and design

Date Added: 22nd November 2013
Led by York's Department of Computer Science,the new doctoral training centre will focus on games and work closely with the games industry.

A collaboration led by the University of York is to receive funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to train the next generation of researchers, designers, developers and entrepreneurs of digital games.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) is a collaboration between the Universities of York and Essex, Goldsmiths College, University of London and 60 representatives from the world-leading UK games industry, networks and user groups.

IGGI postgraduate students will harness the potential of digital games to capture information about human behaviour on an unprecedented scale, providing powerful new scientific tools. They will investigate new research questions arising from the massive growth of digital games, in areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and interactivity, as well as creating more fun and profitable games, delivering an internationally distinctive and research-aware UK games industry.

IGGI is one of over 70 new Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs), designed to train tomorrow’s engineers and scientists, announced by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts today. Total investment across the UK will be £350m.

Peter Cowling, Professor of Computer Science, and part of the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA) at the University of York, leads the consortium. He said: “IGGI will revolutionise the link between research and industry in a vibrant but currently disjointed field, building on mutually productive research and recruitment links through direct engagement between PhD students and the UK games industry.

“IGGI will deliver a four year PhD programme which combines training in practical skills and cutting-edge research topics in big data analytics, software engineering, artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, graphics, sound and game design. Students will experience the potential of digital games to capture information about human behaviour and preference on a previously impossible scale, providing powerful new tools for experimental computer science, economics, biology, psychology, sociology and art.”

IGGI has a total budget of £12.5m, which includes investment from the universities involved, partner organisations such as games companies, network organisations and user organisations, and the EPSRC funding announced today. The centre involves a pool of 82 academic supervisors who will train 55 PhD students in five yearly cohorts of 11 per year.

Science Minister David Willetts said: “Scientists and engineers are vital to our economy and society. It is their talent and imagination, as well as their knowledge and skills, that inspire innovation and drive growth across a range of sectors, from manufacturing to financial services.

“I am particularly pleased to see strong partnerships between universities, industry and business among the new centres announced today. This type of collaboration is a key element of our industrial strategy and will continue to keep us at the forefront of the global science race.”

Paul Golby, EPSRC’s Chair, said: “Centres for Doctoral Training have already proved to be a great success and the model is popular with students, business and industry. These new centres will give the country the highly trained scientists and engineers it needs and they will be equipped with skills to move on in their careers. The standard of applications for centres was very high and more could have been funded if we had the capacity.”

Notes: EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI): Lead: Professor Peter Cowling, Department of Computer Science, University of York. Co-investigators: Dr Paul Cairns, Department of Computer Science and Professor Marian Ursu, Department of Theatre, Film and Television, University of York; Professor Atau Tanaka, Professor Simon Colton, Professor William Latham and Dr Jeremy Gow, Department of Computing, Goldsmiths College; Professor Simon Lucas, Professor Richard Bartle, Dr Udo Kruschwitz, School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex.

Centres for Doctoral Training include technical and transferable skills, as well as a research element. The centres bring together diverse areas of expertise to train engineers and scientists with the skills, knowledge and confidence to tackle today’s evolving issues, and future challenges. They also provide a supportive and exciting environment for students, create new working cultures, build relationships between teams in universities and forge lasting links with industry.

Standing the test of time - Most Influential Paper prize for York Computer Science testing research

Date Added: 18th November 2013
A 1998 paper by York Computer Science researchers is recognised in 2013 as the Most Influential Paper in automated software engineering.

In 1998, as part of the EPSRC sponsored CONVERSE project, the paper "An Automated Framework for Structural Test-Data Generation" by the York team of Nigel Tracey, John Clark, Keith Mander, and John McDermid was presented at the top international conference on automated software engineering, the IEEE Conference on Automated Software Engineering (ASE).

The paper addressed the question of how to automatically generate test data to thoroughly exercise critical systems code. The authors showed how a nature-inspired optimisation approach could be used to find test data that exercised behaviour near critical boundaries. The authors also showed how the same approach could generate test data to cause various healthiness conditions to be violated, e.g. giving rise to a numeric underflow or overflow, or causing a module to be invoked outside its precondition.

Fifteen years on, in July of this year, the programme and organising committees of the IEEE Conference on Automated Software Engineering 2013 chose York's paper as the joint winner of the 2013 Most Influential Paper Award. The award was made publicly at the conference banquet on Thursday 14 November.

The paper represents some of the earliest work at York on the application of nature inspired search approaches to software testing. This work on software testing inspired the wider application of nature-inspired approaches to software engineering problems in later years.

This has proven to be very fertile ground, being recognised by nine best paper prizes (including a best Search Based Software Engineering paper prize at Genetic and Evolutionary Computation 2013 by York's Simon Poulding et al on software testing) and almost £2m in EPSRC research funding.

The authors are honoured and delighted to receive this award, which confers exceptional recognition by the international research community of the long-term value of their research.

Importantly, the testing work also acted as a vehicle for making friends in the community who would become long term collaborators. John Clark is part of the EPSRC's recently awarded six-year Dynamic Adaptive Automated Software Engineering Programme Grant, led by Mark Harman at UCL, whom the York team met when they organised and hosted the first UK workshop on Software Testing in 1998. This grant aims to establish the next generation and understanding of search based automated software engineering problem solving techniques for contemporary and emerging systems.

Nigel was awarded his DPhil in 2001. He now works for ETAS (based in York) and collaborates with members of the Department on embedded systems research. Keith is now pro-Vice chancellor at Kent. John and John continue their work at York - John McDermid recently stepped down as Head of the Department of Computer Science, and John Clark is Deputy Head of Department with responsibility for research.

EPSRC First Grant success for two Computer Science academics

Date Added: 5th November 2013
Successful projects cover controlling autonomous vehicles and quantum data storage and retrieval to get new academics started in research.

Congratulations to two members of Computer Science academic staff, who have achieved success in the EPSRC First Grant scheme. The scheme, run by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is there to help new academics apply for research funding at the start of their careers.

Both Dr Rob Alexander and Dr Stefano Pirandola have been awarded funding for their projects:

Dr Rob Alexander, Testing Autonomous Vehicle Software using Situation Generation

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) must be controlled by software, and such software thus has responsibility for safe vehicle behaviour. It is therefore essential that we rigorously test such software. This is difficult to do for AVs, as they have to respond appropriately to a great diversity of external situations as they go about their missions.

It is possible to find faults in an AV software specification by testing its behaviour in a variety of external situations, either in reality or in computer simulation. Such testing may reveal that the specification ignores certain situations (e.g. negotiating a motorway contraflow lane) or defines behaviour that is unsafe in a subset of situations (e.g. its policy for adapting to icy surfaces leads to unsafe speed control in crowded urban environments).

This project will test the hypothesis that testing based on coverage of possible external situations ("situation coverage") is an effective means of finding AV specification faults. We will test the hypothesis by creating a tool that generates situations for simulated AVs, both randomly and using heuristic search, and assessing whether higher situation coverage correlates with greater success at revealing seeded specification faults. (For the search, the fitness function will be based on the situation coverage achieved).

The project will draw on previous work on test coverage measures, on search-based testing, and on automated scenario generation in training simulations. To assess the effectiveness of the approach, we will use a small but practically-motivated case study of an autonomous ground vehicle, informed by the advice of an advisory panel set up for this project.

Dr Stefano Pirandola, Quantum Discrimination for Data Retrieval (qDATA)

Information is very important in our society. It is the "thing" which is processed by our computers and transmitted over the Internet. Every day we enjoy its benefits, since acquiring information means increasing our knowledge. For this reason, storing information is also very important. This is a process which is very common in our routine lives; for instance, think of a hard disk working in the background, or a DVD burned as a back-up of your most important data.

Advances in data storage could be much greater if they came from a deeper understanding of the concept of information. The basic unit of information, the bit, relies on our ability to distinguish between two states of a physical system. At the quantum level, storing and retrieving a bit of information relies on the capacity to discriminate between two quantum states of the system, e.g., spin up or spin down of an electron.

In our proposal, we consider a more advanced approach where information is encoded using quantum channels, i.e., the most general physical maps between quantum states. In our model, an encoder randomly picks a quantum channel from a pre-established ensemble, labeled by a classical variable. This channel is then stored in a black box and passed to a decoder. To identify the channel and retrieve the value of the variable, the decoder uses a transmitter, for feeding an input state into the box, and a receiver, for measuring the possible output states. Thus, data is stored in an ensemble of quantum channels and retrieved by the process of quantum channel discrimination.

Motivated by this approach, our first aim is to solve the general problem of quantum channel discrimination, by considering ensembles of Gaussian channels and assuming decoders with limited energy. This is an open problem, whose optimal solution will provide the core for a general theory on Gaussian channel discrimination.

This theory will then be applied to practical scenarios which are important for data storage. We will consider the quantum reading of digital memories, where the use of faint quantum light is remarkably efficient in retrieving data from classical optical discs (resembling CDs and DVDs). Our aim is to optimize this model by including error correcting codes and, most importantly, to make it practical by studying all the details of its optical implementation, where the inevitable presence of diffraction causes effects of inter-bit interference. Thanks to this study, we will be able to promote this theoretical idea to the level of a technological prototype, ready to be experimentally implemented.

The field implementation of a quantum reader could be a breakthrough in data storage, since we could increase data transfer rates and storage capacities of our digital memories by orders of magnitude. Furthermore, thanks to the non-invasive nature of the quantum light, new photo-degradable materials could be used by the industry for the construction of new types of organic memories. Our approach is high-risk but it could open the way to radically new forms of information technologies.

Then, a generalization of quantum reading is quantum pattern recognition. Here we aim to prove how quantum correlations can dramatically improve the performances of pattern matching in supervised and unsupervised algorithms (for instance, for data clustering). Quantum pattern recognition can potentially lead to a dramatic boost in the classification of raw data with minimal use of energy, negligible error rates and fast acquisition times. This technique could be used for the probing of very fragile biological or human samples in order to recognize the presence of bacterial growths or cancerous cells. Thanks to its non-invasive nature, quantum light could also be used for a continuous real-time probing of such samples. Results could be revolutionary in the long-term, providing completely new techniques for biological analysis and medical imaging.

University of York hosts international Computer Science symposium

Date Added: 25th October 2013
Postgraduate students from across the UK and Europe are meeting at the University of York for the York Doctoral Symposium on Computer Science and Electronics (YDS 2013).

The event is aimed at PhD and Masters students in Computer Science, Electronic Engineering and related disciplines who wish to work at the cutting edge of technology and computer science research.

The event, held at the Ron Cooke Hub on 29 October, is hosted by the University’s Departments of Computer Science and Electronics, and has attracted 100 delegates from the UK and countries including the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal and Germany.

The event will provide postgraduate students with an opportunity to present and publish their research at a peer-reviewed conference, as well as to learn the process of organising and running a conference.

University of York PhD student Sam Simpson, Chair of the Programme Committee, said: “The goal of the symposium is to bring together doctoral students from around the UK and Europe to share and exchange their research and ideas with others.

“By bringing students together from a wide range of areas, we hope to promote more interdisciplinary research. It is a great chance for doctoral students to gain experience presenting their work to colleagues.”

The symposium keynote speakers are Dr Sue Black, a Senior Research Associate at University College London’s Department of Computer Science, and Professor Rashik Parmar, President of IBM’s Academy of Technology.

Dr Black, who is also a Senior Consultant with Cornerstone Global Associates, successfully campaigned from 2008 to 2011 to save Bletchley Park and has recently launched Techmums. Professor Parmar has nearly 30 years of practical experience at IBM, where he has worked for financial, retail and manufacturing clients on IT projects of all sizes. He is currently leading projects related to IBM’s Smarter Cities programme.

YDS 2013 is supported by IBM, Rapita, BT, Etas and PurpleFrog Text, as well as the University of York.

For further information on the 6th York Doctoral Symposium on Computer Science (YDS2013) visit or follow the event on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Computer Science students improve their chances of employment success

Date Added: 9th October 2013
Our undergraduate students are returning to their studies armed with valuable work experience gained on paid summer internships.

These include final-year students Nick Dandakis, Mihaela Maior and James Spence, who have completed 12-week internships with York-based software and digital sector employers. The internships have equipped the students with real-world experience and vital problem-solving and time-management skills.

The Computer Science students completed their internships alongside over 100 other intern projects managed through the University of York. Summer interns are now an established way by which York’s businesses can access skills and enthusiasm to make a real difference to their activities.

Nick Dandakis spent 12 weeks with Mitrefinch, developers of employee management and security solutions. He said: “My role was to maintain, extend and improve the test automation system that Mitrefinch uses. After four weeks, I proposed a new system that would be easier to use and maintain, and produce more useable test results than the current system. Mitrefinch has now offered me a part-time job as a Test Automation Engineer at a competitive graduate wage.

“Being able to influence a company as much as I have taught me a very valuable lesson; never be content with just getting by, take risks and opportunities when presented with them and you will be rewarded when the time comes.”

Mitrefinch Product Development Manager Daniel Woolfson said: “This was my second experience of the summer internship and the University’s Department of Computer Science has again assisted me in finding a very capable undergraduate who has excelled in the project I assigned. I would certainly recommend an internship from the University of York to others running technology companies.”

For final year student Mihaela Maior the internship has also resulted in a part-time job with York-based RedBlack Software.

Jane Tyler, Chief Executive Officer of RedBlack Software, said: “A student internship was a relatively low-cost way for us to tackle some projects that have been on the back-burner. We were delighted with the contribution that Mihaela has made, both technically and as a member of the team.”

James Spence worked on a project for SBL, which offers companies security solutions. The project involved the creation, management and hosting of a secure cyber security Wiki environment, which involved collaboration with organisations in the UK and US.

Final-year student James said: “I developed and managed my own project and learned a lot about client interaction and project management. This combined with the areas of responsibility I faced, and the experience gained from resolving the problems, have made major contributions to my personal development. I am returning to University feeling more mature and more organised than when I left it.”

Andrew Ferguson, Assistant Director, Business, Enterprise and Community, in Careers at the University of York, said: “The University sees student internships as adding real value to the local economy. This summer’s record number of internships suggests that businesses agree with the value a motivated student can add. We were delighted to be able to offer some financial support to smaller businesses considering internships thanks to the generous involvement of Santander Bank. We are looking forward to building on these successes over the next year.”

Best paper award, sponsored by Rapita Systems, announced

Date Added: 3rd October 2013
The winner of the Rapita Systems prize for the best paper published in 2012 by an early career stage researcher (Research Associate or Research Fellow) has been announced.

The judging panel declared Frank Zeyda’s paper entitled "Mechanical reasoning about families of UTP theories" to be the best amongst those nominated, especially with regard to originality, significance and rigour.

An honourable mention goes to Ed Powley for his paper on "Monte Carlo Tree Search with macro-actions and heuristic route planning for the Physical Travelling Salesman Problem".

Congratulations to Frank, whose prize includes a cash prize of £200, a certificate, and a trophy that he can keep for twelve months. Frank is part of the High Integrity Systems Engineering research group in the Department. You can find out more about him and his research at

York to use ‘cutting-edge approaches’ to urban pollution monitoring

Date Added: 1st October 2013
Computer Science takes part in an interdisciplinary study using new technologies to monitor and understand urban pollution.

The University of York is launching an innovative 3.5m Euro project which will use new technologies to improve the understanding of urban pollution and its effects on human health and the environment.

York researchers working on the four-year project – Cutting-Edge Approaches for Pollution Assessment in Cities (CAPACITIE) – will harness a wide range of technologies including mobile phones, passive sampling devices, miniaturised sensing devices, robotics and analytical techniques such as time of flight mass spectrometry to monitor different forms of pollution.

CAPACITIE has received European Union funding to examine air, water and noise pollution in cities across the globe, including York, Berlin and Seoul. The project – which launched 1 October - involves experts from York’s Environment Department and the Departments of Electronics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Physics and Sociology. CAPACITIE will also fund an additional 12 early stage researcher roles from March 2014 for three years.

More than half of the world’s population lives in cities and nearly two billion extra residents are expected in the next 20 years. Many of the fastest growing cities in the world are highly polluted, resulting in adverse affects on human health and the health of the natural environment.

The CAPACITIE project is led by Alistair Boxall, Professor in Environmental Science at York, who regularly advises national and international organisations on issues relating to chemical impacts on the environment. He said: “With increasing urbanisation across the world, there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of the factors and processes affecting pollution in cities and the potential negative impacts on human health and the environment. We also need to develop improved approaches for mitigating the effects of a range of pollutants.

“While the focus of CAPACITIE is on city environments, the techniques, technologies and skills delivered through this programme will be highly generic and transferrable to a range of environmental monitoring challenges.”

The research team believes the new technologies will provide important advantages over current monitoring methods: They will quantify levels of pollution at greater frequencies and spatial resolutions than is currently possible; they will allow researchers to monitor locations that in the past have been difficult to sample; and they will allow the researchers to study human and ecological exposure to a range of chemicals that have never been monitored before.

Professor John Local, the University of York’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said: “This funding provides an exciting opportunity for researchers across the University to tackle a really important project which requires a strong interdisciplinary approach.

“The CAPACITIE project will help to establish York as a world leading centre in pollution monitoring. We expect it to act as a catalyst to draw in more funding to look at pollution issues in cities and that it will also lead to the development of new teaching programmes in the area.”

A number of ‘end-users’ will participate in the project including Arup, Ecologic, Gaist Ltd, IBM, Markes International, National Physical Laboratory, Perkin Elmer, Scottish Water, Seoul Metropolitan Government, Siemens, Umweltbundesamt, the US Geological Survey and City of York Council.

The results of the project will be reported in 2017, when the University will also host a major international conference on pollution in cities.