Friday, August 19, 2011

Weeknote #42

Much to report; the European Conference on Artificial Life was held in Paris at the start of the month. Our COBRA project organized a satellite workshop the day before the main conference, which went very well. Our meeting covered the broad area of "biological and chemical IT", and topics included synthetic biology, artificial cells and robotics. A special issue of the journal BioSystems will be edited around the themes of the meeting, with an open call for papers to be issued shortly.

We're fortunate enough to have one of the artificial life pioneers (Steen Rasmussen) as a COBRA collaborator (another pioneer, Norman Packard, is also involved via the European Center for Living Technology in Venice) , and their panel discussion was entertaining and thought-provoking. Steen has blogged about this (and the wider conference) here.

Our Ph.D. students Matthew Crossley and Henry Dorrian recently attended the Student Conference on Complexity Sciences in Winchester, which sounds like exactly the sort of thing I wish had been around when I was a student (I did attend the Santa Fe Institute complex systems summer school in 1995, but that was for a whole month). Anyway, Henry presented a poster, and Matthew gave a talk, both of which were very well-received. Indeed, Matthew reported that one of the invited speakers, Robert May (AKA The Lord May of Oxford, former President of the Royal Society and Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, among his many roles) had quietly taken him to one side to offer particular praise and encouragement for his work on agent-based models of epidemiology, and how they might be used in public engagement/education activities. To say that Matthew was "chuffed" might be a slight under-statement...

We were delighted by a recent review of Litmus, which appeared in the Independent a couple of weeks ago. Peter Forbes (I'm an admirer of his book The Gecko's Foot) describes the collection as "...not a test but an open sesame into some of science's most intriguing passages." I was also pleased to see that the morphogenesis story written by Jane Rogers (for which I acted as scientific consultant and wrote the afterword) attracted particular attention in the review. Jane's just been long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, so well done and good luck to her! Litmus is available to buy here, and now might also be a good time to plug an event Jane and I are doing in October, jointly with the Manchester Science and Literature Festivals (details to right).

Finally, as I was typing this note I got an email from Springer to tell me that the journal version of our paper on using genetic algorithms to solve the Zen Puzzle Garden game has now appeared in print in the journal Natural Computing. I'm particularly pleased about this paper, not because it's hugely ground-breaking, but because it originated from an undergraduate student project.

Although Paris was half-and-half work and pleasure (I was accompanied by my wife, while our daughter stayed with her grand-parents in Northumberland), next week really is a holiday (visiting family in Suffolk). That means IMAP server passwords deleted from my phone, no tweeting, the lot. I'm sure it will do me good.