Back to Latest News

News Archive : October - December 2014

York's Computer Science research recognised for international impact of our research excellence

Date Added: 17th December 2014
We have been ranked 7th overall in the UK and 5th for the impact of our research in the Research Excellence Framework.

90 per cent of our research was deemed to be world-leading or internationally excellent, and our research environment was ranked 6th in the UK.

This result confirms the long-standing global reach and real-world significance of our research and makes us one of best Departments in the country for nurturing excellent research by staff and research students alike. All aspects of our impact and environment were judged to be of world-leading or international standard.

Head of Department Professor Jim Woodcock: "York Computer Science has always aimed to give excellent support for the production of great research that excites the academic community and has profound real-world effect. The REF 2014 results confirm our outstanding research achievements to date. Our staff and students' creativity, expertise and enthusiasm will allow us to build on this success over the coming years."

Find out more about our research groups at

If you'd like to study for a PhD in Computer Science at York, please visit

Computer Science PhD student joins first Royal Society Commonwealth Science Conference in 50 years

Date Added: 10th December 2014
Chris was specially selected to attend the Commonwealth Science Conference: here's his experiences.

The Commonwealth Science Conference held in India in 2014 was the first for nearly 50 years. To encourage collaborative research across the Commonwealth, and to gather ideas on how future scientific research and communication should progress, the Royal Society brought the conference back to life.

After being nominated by my PhD supervisor, I was then lucky enough to be selected by the Royal Academy of Engineering as one of only two PhD students to represent UK engineering at the conference. Not only did I go as a representative for the UK, but also the University of York and the field of Computer Science.

The conference message was all about science for the common good, and included 350 delegates with diverse scientific and engineering backgrounds coming from 33 of the Commonwealth countries. This included 70 PhD students, who were invited to represent the young scientists, and were acknowledged as the future of science with the ability to change and mould scientific research for the good of the Commonwealth and the world.

It was a fascinating event that everyone thoroughly enjoyed - never before have I seen so many conference sessions with so many people in attendance. It was noted in the closing remarks how people didn't feel the need to get laptops, tablets, and phones out of their bags - even the final plenary talks on the final day were full of attentive delegates... Emails could wait!

The Indian government and local researchers were immensely proud to be hosting the event for the first time after its revival. So much so that the Indian president was the guest of honour at the opening ceremony. There were speeches given by the Minister of Science and Technology for India, Dr Jitendra Singh, the president of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, the Commonwealth Secretary General, His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma, The Duke of York, HRH Prince Andrew, the President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, Professor CNR Rao, and Professor Anthony Cheetham. It is an event I will never forget.

After the opening ceremony, Sir Paul Nurse gave the first lecture of the conference and asked the question "how do we trust science?" His message to the Commonwealth was clear - the way in which we do science needs to be open and honest. Those sceptical of the work of others need to take a step back and evaluate their own first. He also stressed the importance of public embrace of science, and noted that scientific journalists are good at portraying information in an understandable manner. It is just a shame that the headlines and promises made in the press are often misleading or exaggerated, he added.

The remainder of the conference consisted of a mix of diverse plenary sessions, focused parallel sessions, panel discussions, student presentations, and a poster session. The subject of these ranged from new leukaemia treatments that have had extremely positive results, climate-change analysis that identified how we have already dumped enough CO2 to raise the temperature 2oC by 2050, the Indian space program, cooperation and conflict in wasps, biology-inspired dinosaur fossil analysis, big-data analysis at the met office, neural networks, Galois connections, and the future of computing and technology.

The panel session aimed to identify how scientific advice is delivered to politicians and governments across the Commonwealth, and was chaired by the chief scientific advisor to HM Government UK, Sir Mark Walport. It was clear that the consensus on public understanding of science is limited, and ideas to break down the divide between scientist and the public (which includes the politicians) were presented. The discussion also highlighted a mix of opinions as to whether the scientists or the politicians are to blame. It also demonstrated the differences between the developed and developing countries in the Commonwealth with regard to the investment in science and the ability to progress.

Unfortunately, the field of Computer Science was under-represented at the conference. Out of 150 posters presented by students and academics, only five were dedicated to Computer Science and Mathematics. Similarly, there were few references to Computer Science outside the Mathematics and Complex Systems parallel session. Nevertheless, I managed to identify possible collaborations between the RTS group in York and the Physics department in Oxford for computing climate change models using FPGAs. I also made new acquaintances with other PhD students from Africa, Canada, Australia, and the Caribbean, in fields including Chemistry, Health sciences, Astronomy, and Palaeontology.

The conference was deemed a massive success, and plans are already under way for the next Commonwealth Science Conference, which is likely to be held in 2017. A working group will also be set up to address the concerns and issues that have been raised at the conference - for example, how can developed countries help developing countries in their up and coming research? Travel and mentoring grants for delegates (or nominees of delegates) have also been made available to encourage collaborative research inside the Commonwealth.

It was an experience that I will never forget, and I am extremely grateful to Jim Woodcock, Ana Cavalcanti, The Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society for giving me the opportunity to represent both York and the United Kingdom at such a prestigious event.

You can read Chris' profile at and more about the conference at

Using data from games to enhance data analytics

Date Added: 5th December 2014
Academics from Computer Science have teamed up with MooD International to explore how data analytics can be enhanced with computer gaming technology.

MooD international, which is a double Queen's Award for Enterprise recipient, has recently won a further round of Research & Development (R&D) funding from the EU in collaboration with the University.

Based at York Science Park, MooD International develops software to help businesses solve complex operational challenges. The business has focussed on capturing relevant data, not only analysing its affect on businesses but the causes that led to the data being produced.

Now MooD's core development team is working with the Department of Computer Science to analyse and how cause and effect data predictions and analysis can be combined with computer gaming technology.

Simon Smith, chief technology officer at MooD, said: "Our technology helps people think about how they organise their organisations; the architecture of an enterprise, and combining that with operational data to assess how a company is performing.

"We are now in the third phase of work, which is using that data to give an insight into what moves should be made, and working out how things will turn out.

"It's about people getting one step ahead, and anticipating what the outcome is going to be, and putting things in place to make sure they achieve the outcome they want.

"A lot of data analytics is just data, but that's not good enough, we want to know what causes something.

"We can join that causality work into what is being done in gaming intelligence research, and we are looking at the techniques people are using in developing digital games."

Professor of Computer Science, Peter Cowling said: "Our Artificial Intelligence approaches have made a real impact on the digital games industry, and now is the time to realise the potential in wider business.

"And for that reason, I’m really excited about working with MooD International. They are not only working with us on the underlying technology, but can also make the translation into the business domain – showing how the investments that their enterprise customers are making can actually impact the things they really care about."

As part of the project, MooD has recently taken on a research assistant from the University in the form of Daniel Whitehouse, as the company looks to further grow its team of developers.

New Hub to make quantum leap in secure communications

Date Added: 26th November 2014
York Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics academics combine in one of four new hubs set up to tackle secure communication technologies.

Leading researchers from UK universities and industry have come together in a unique collaboration to exploit fundamental laws of quantum physics for the development of secure communication technologies and services for consumer, commercial and government markets.

Led by the University of York, the project consortium has bid successfully for Government funding to be one of four hubs in the EPSRC’s new £155m National Network of Quantum Technology Hubs announced today by Greg Clark, Minister of State for Universities, Science and Cities.

The new hubs are the centre-piece of the £270 million investment in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme announced by the Chancellor in the 2013 Autumn Statement.

The £24m five-year project involves eight universities - Bristol, Cambridge, Heriot-Watt, Leeds, Royal Holloway, Sheffield , Strathclyde and York - each of which will contribute world-class expertise and facilities. In York, the team comprises staff from the departments of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics and will be a major activity of the recently launched York Centre for Quantum Technologies. Private sector partners include BT, the National Physical Laboratory, and Toshiba Research Europe Ltd, all of whom are world leaders in advanced research and development in quantum communications.

From the Department of Computer Science, Professor Sam Braunstein and Dr Stefano Pirandola will be leading the research.

The main focus of the Hub will be on secure communications, with emphasis on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) - one of the first quantum information technologies with market potential. The Hub is aiming for breakthroughs in affordability and integration that will lead to widespread use of the technology. Developments will include chip-scale integration of QKD, and the design and build of prototype hand-held QKD devices.

The Hub will also build the UK’s first Quantum network. This will be based initially on the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS), which currently links a number of the Hub’s university partners. The new network will be extended to other sites over time, providing a geographically distributed test-bed outside the lab for developing, testing and demonstrating new quantum technologies and services.

In addition to connecting partners, the Quantum Communications Hub will make the new network available to groups of users as trialists and early adopters. Users include major commercial and industrial business clusters, as well as groups of consumers. These geographical clusters and groups, in and around Cambridge, Martlesham and Bristol, will be supported by Hub partners local to them – Cambridge Network Ltd, BT and Bristol City Council respectively.

The Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, Professor Koen Lamberts said: “Realising the potential of quantum technologies is a significant scientific and engineering challenge York’s expertise in quantum communications across disciplines - including computer science, mathematics and physics – is at the heart of a unique and exceptionally strong partnership that will drive the Hub towards its objective of exploiting excellent research to support UK industry and business.”

The Director of the Quantum Communications Hub, Professor Tim Spiller of the Department of Physics at York, said: “Collaboration is key to the project, and our Hub has brought together a multi-disciplinary team of world-class researchers and industry leaders. We will take from across the partnership the best existing theoretical and experimental research as well as current technology demonstrators. These will underpin the development necessary for prototype products and services that will stimulate the market and the consequent take-up.”

On the road to better management of public assets

Date Added: 20th November 2014
A partnership between the University of York and technology company Gaist Solutions Ltd is extending the life of the UK’s public infrastructure assets.

Funded through Innovate UK, the York/Gaist Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is using sophisticated GRID technology to ensure more effective maintenance of roads, pavements, street furniture, parkland and drainage.

Its success was highlighted recently in the performance of its client Blackpool Council in the annual national public satisfaction survey carried out by MORI on behalf of the National Highways and Transportation Network.

While the survey, which involved 116 local authorities, found that overall views about the condition of highways in the UK are still at near record low levels, Blackpool Council bucked the trend. It gained the largest improvement for overall satisfaction, tackling congestion and road safety while also gaining the best overall score for road safety. The authority was also rated in the top five for improvements in public transport, walking and cycling, and highway maintenance.

The York/Gaist KTP involves researchers from the University’s Department of Computer Science and the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA) working with specialists from Gaist Solutions to combine condition and maintenance data from a wide range of sources. Using an unprecedented level of accuracy and a real-time update mechanism, they are able to ensure the effective targeting of ever scarcer resources.

Cllr John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways and transport, said: “Our work with Gaist and the University of York has been essential to enabling the Council to make the right investment decisions now to ensure that we have a road network that is fit to hand on to the next generation.

“We are now able to use sophisticated modelling techniques to test the validity of our maintenance plans and fix the right roads at the right time and predict long term future budget needs. We value very much the innovative collaboration we have been involved in that has allowed us to tap into world class research and gain rapid benefits for our residents. The results of the survey speak for themselves and we are now going to concentrate on allowing other Councils to tap into the work we have done as a team and hopefully spread the benefits nationally.”

Professor Peter Cowling, from York’s Department of Computer Science, who is also part of YCCSA, said: “We are very pleased to have played a part in Blackpool Council’s success. Central Government and local councils spend millions of pounds each year building and maintaining infrastructure. Our database can inform strategic decisions on purchasing and funding. We can use and research advanced tools from Artificial Intelligence and Operational Research to generate value from the data, especially in improved planning and scheduling.”

Steve Birdsall, Gaist Managing Director, added: “We are delighted our valued client Blackpool Council has demonstrated that its vision for highways asset management was the correct one and the improvements in the condition of their roads, footways and management techniques are obviously appreciated by the residents of Blackpool.

“We have worked closely as a team with Blackpool Council to develop advanced approaches to highways data management and long term financial modelling. This hard work has paid off and we are now seeing a rising demand from other Councils across the UK who wish to benefit from this work. This would not have been possible without the vision and drive of Blackpool Council and the excellent input of the University via the KTP. This is a shining example of how a KTP can rapidly deliver massive value to a business and its customers.”

Computer Science spin-out company joins the space race

Date Added: 7th November 2014
Rapita Systems is helping secure the safe return of space shuttles to earth after its technology was selected for safety tests on the European Space Agency's latest vehicle.

Rapita Systems started in 2004 as a spin-out from the Department of Computer Science, and creates tools to test the effectiveness of software in areas such as avionic flight and automotive engineering control systems.

The company has been selected to supply its tools to assist with the testing of the software systems used on the European Space Agency's Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV).

Due to be launched into space in November, the IXV is the space agency's technology platform developed as the next step forward from the successful Atmospheric Re-entry Demonstrator (ARD) to exhibit re-entry capabilities.

Rapita Systems chief executive Guillem Bernat said: "We are delighted to be making a contribution to this re-usable spacecraft project. As software is responsible for so many of the critical functions of space vehicles, it is essential that they are thoroughly tested before they are deployed. Our product, RapiCover provides an excellent way to show that this is the case."

Find out more about Rapita at

York’s key role in advancing digital creativity

Date Added: 6th November 2014
The Department of Computer Science is to play a key role in the Digital Catapult, a new national project to advance the UK’s best digital ideas.

The University of York is part of a consortium in Yorkshire which will establish one of three Connected Digital Economy Catapult (CDEC) centres across the UK.

The Yorkshire based consortium, proposed by York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership and its counterpart in the Leeds City Region, includes academic and commercial partners as well as a local authority.

With a united aim of generating thousands of new jobs, driving innovation at a local level and creating millions in linked investment and future funding by 2025, the three local centres will support the London King’s Cross Digital Catapult Centre which was opened by the Minister for the Digital Economy Ed Vaizey.

The project will be led by the University of Bradford and will have a specific focus on digital health innovation and will bring together start-ups, small and large businesses and the academic community to develop new healthcare products and services.

From next Spring, the University will help to co-ordinate events to link small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with academics in areas of big data, with a particular focus on healthcare. Academics from the departments of Computer Science, Theatre, Film and Television, Electronics, Health Sciences and the Centre for Health Economics at York will aim to provide a range of specialist support to the commercial sector.

Immediate plans include helping to translate the creativity of games developers into innovative digital advances by building on York’s growing expertise in games and the application of games into new sectors from the recently launched EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Games Intelligence (IGGI) and the EPSRC/ ESRC New Economic Models and Opportunities in digital Games (NEMOG) project, both initiatives within the Department of Computer Science.

Departments at York, including Computer Science, are addressing challenges around big data, bringing together diverse data sets, interacting with, understanding and interpreting the data to deliver increased value.

The Digital Catapult Centre Yorkshire will host a high bandwidth connection linking it with two additional centres planned for Brighton and Sunderland, and also with the Digital Catapult Centre London.

Other partners include the University of Leeds, BT, Science City York, Leeds Beckett University, City of Bradford Metropolitan Council, University of York St John and University of Huddersfield.

Mr Vaizey said: “It is an exciting time to be a tech business in the UK. Our digital economy is already one of the strongest markets in the world, valued at more than £100 billion. Growth areas including the Internet of Things and digital creative industries are opening up a range of new opportunities for companies in the sector.”

Professor Peter Cowling, from the Department of Computer Science and Director of the IGGI Centre for Doctoral Training and the NEMOG project said “We are only just starting to harness the enthusiasm that people have for digital games to provide powerful new tools to understand and change behaviour. The potential to use terabytes of gameplay data in diagnosis and therapy is immense.”

The consortium will:
- Initiate and collaborate with the Digital Catapult on a range of innovative projects, designed to be accessible to start-up and SME businesses to use and learn from.
- Create links between universities and the local business community that enable university led R&D in the Digital Catapult challenge areas to be converted into commercial market opportunities which can be prototyped and piloted by start-ups and SMEs.
- Help to develop the higher level skills needed to realise and exploit new data and media capabilities.

TIGA award nomination for our Doctoral Centre in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence

Date Added: 17th October 2014
We're delighted that our EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) has been nominated in the TIGA Games Industry Awards for Best Education Initiative.

IGGI is a collaboration with University of Essex and Goldsmiths College, University of London. We're keeping our fingers crossed! Check out the shortlist, which also includes a nomination for Goldsmiths (Computing Department) as Best Educational Institution.