Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weeknote #44

I can't quite believe that the summer has gone, and that we're about to launch into another term. The first year students are already here, and I spoke to them today about the importance of research, not just to academics, but to the University as a whole (and, of course, to them, as students and members of that community). I talked about some of the work we've been doing on swarm intelligence, and pointed out that much of that stuff has originated in student projects. I cited Matthew, my Ph.D. student, as an excellent representative of the "grow your own" ethos we're trying to develop at MMU; his SimZombie project led to Ph.D. studies, and he's now developing that work in parallel with his "proper" research. If anyone's interested, I've made my slides available here (warning: 15Mb PDF).

We had a research away day last week, and I also attended a meeting in London to hear about the panel-specific aspects of the forthcoming Research Excellence Framework. An unexpected bonus was the chance to chat to my old mate Dave Corne, with whom I used to work at Exeter.

One of the important points to come out of our internal REF workshop was the need to increase the visibility of our publications, both past and present. With that in mind, I've slightly revamped my own publications page. When I was a Ph.D. student, one of the most soul-sapping aspects of writing was the construction of the bibliography, so I've added BibTeX entries for the majority of my papers and books. I've also managed to dig out PDF versions of several publications I thought I'd lost for ever.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weeknote #43

Last week Naomi and I travelled down to Bristol for a network meeting of the EPSRC Bridging the Gaps projects. Our NanoInfoBio project has now technically finished, although we do have £50K of continuation funding to take us into 2012. We were hosted by the University of the West of England BTG project, and the meeting went very well. Several projects offered a single slide on "The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful", and ours were as follows:

Good: The use of seed-corn funding (eg. £5K) to nurture ideas from initial "blue sky" sessions, through to prototyping and then subsequent large funding.

Bad: Nobody came to coffee. We had real trouble getting people to socialise and mix on an informal basis. Several projects reported similar problems with both real and virtual interactions.

Beautiful: The realisation of one of our stated aims, which was to "grown our own" researchers. We are now seeing MMU undergrads working on NIB-supported Ph.D. projects, and they will hopefully stay on to become valued members of staff, and help to train a next generation of inter-disciplinary researchers.

It was an inspiring meeting, and it helped me to realise just how much we've accomplished with the project in two short years. The real challenge now is to embed the lessons we've learned into institutional thinking, and the targeted continuation funding will make a significant impact on research activities ahead of the REF in 2014.

On a personal level, it was also a pleasure to catch up with Mike Luck, who's now Head of Department at King's College London (a post recently held by my Ph.D. supervisor, Alan Gibbons, until his retirement). I first met Mike as a potential Ph.D. student, when he was showing around applicants at University College London. When I eventually fetched up at the University of Warwick, Mike had, by then, taken an academic post there, and remembered me from the tour. He does great work on multi-agent systems, and I'm pleased to see him doing so well.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Speakers for Schools

I'm pleased to be able to participate in a new initiative to get volunteer speakers into schools, to share their knowledge, experience and advice. Speakers for Schools (which will formally launch next month) was founded by Robert Peston (BBC Business Editor), and enjoys the support of people such as Jon Snow, Jeremy Paxman, Alastair Campbell, Yvette Cooper, Martha Lane Fox, Lauren Laverne and Martin Rees.

Call for papers on "Biological and Chemical IT"

BioSystems invites manuscripts for a special issue dedicated to
“Biological and Chemical Information Technologies”.

Information Technologies (BioChemIT), held at the European
Conference for Artificial Life, Paris, August 8th 2011, the organizers
invite members of the community to contribute to a collection of
papers dedicated to this growing area of research.

Topics include (but are not limited to):

Biological/chemical information technologies; molecular and
chemical computing; protocells and synthetic cells; molecular
robots; integration of information processing with (bio-)chemical
production; nano-bio-info interface; cellular engineering, artificial
neurons; programmable information chemistry; unconventional
computing substrates; synthetic biology; computational and
mathematical studies.

For more information, see the full call for papers.