Conference Sessions

The SICSA Conference showcases Informatics and Computing Science research and its strong connections to other disciplines in Scotland.

The theme of the 2020 Conference is SICSA and the Sustainable Society. Talks will be given by high profile research leaders from within Scotland and beyond, as well as showcasing the depth of talent of tomorrow’s leading researchers within our PhD community.

Research Themes

Computing Science and Informatics will be a critical underpinning and enabling discipline to address the challenges of a Sustainable Society.

We have already seen how technology has enabled society to rapidly reorganise work and the economy in numerous sectors to respond to the needs for social distancing during the current crisis. 

Equally, computing and network technologies are playing a vital role in responding directly to the pandemic, enabling data collection and analysis at scale and in real time. SICSA’s research themes encompass the full breadth of the discipline and build international connections to sustain our research. 

During this session, we will show case research that demonstrates cutting edge computing research and its potential to address the Sustainable Society Challenge.

Title of Session: AI for Sustainability

Research Theme Leading the Session: Artificial Intelligence

Research Theme Leaders:

  • Professor Helen Hastie, Heriot Watt University
  • Professor Emma Hart, Edinburgh Napier University

Brief outline of session: Three speakers who will talk for 25 minutes (including questions) covering topics on AI for Sustainability including Dr Bosché on energy efficiency renovation of buildings; Dr Pomponi on AI for Sustainable Development Goals; and Dr Powers on AI for reduction of peak electricity consumption.

Speaker: Dr Frédéric Bosché, HEA Fellow, Senior Lecturer in Construction Informatics

Title of Talk: BIMERR – Renovation 4.0 toolkit for the energy efficiency renovation process of buildings

Abstract: The mission of the EU-funded BIMERR project is to design and develop an ICT-enabled Renovation 4.0 toolkit comprising tools for Architecture, Engineering & Construction (AEC) actors in the process of delivering the energy efficiency renovation of existing buildings. More specifically, the team researches and integrates many technologies in: Linked data for semantic integration of data from various domains; digital twinning the energy systems and usage of existing buildings and their neighbourhoods to simulate the impact of various renovation measures; “Scan-to-BIM”, i.e. creating semantically rich 3D models from point cloud and images (this is the part our team is focused on); Workflow modelling and monitoring to ensure the project the delivered on time and budget; AR-based onsite communication software for surveyors and construction workers along with App-based communication software to keep the inhabitants informed of progress and potential hazards.

This talk will give you an overview of the project and its components, with more detail on the “Scan-to-BIM” work that our team has the responsibility for. Finally, technical as well as project delivery challenges will be discussed.

Speaker: Dr Francesco Pomponi, Associate Professor of Sustainability Research at Edinburgh Napier University and Academic Tutor at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability

Title of Talk: The unique role of AI in advancing the progress of the building community towards meeting Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Abstract: How many buildings do we have on the planet? What’s the total floor area of buildings in the US? Can architects and designers see implications of their design choices in real-time? What is the optimal form for a given building project? Which materials should be used to minimise the environmental impact of a project? These are some of the questions that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help answer in order to promote sustainable buildings and cities.

Building and construction activities are the single greatest contributor to global energy demand, GHG emissions, resource consumption and waste generation. With the growing availability of increasingly larger datasets related to buildings and cities and the affordability of computational power, AI has a unique role to play in advancing the progress of the building community towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This talk will give you an overview of recent developments and future directions for this exciting research domain.

Speaker: Dr Simon Powers, Lecturer in Computer Science

Title of Talk: Artificial intelligence for fair reduction of peak electricity consumption

Abstract: Reducing the peak energy consumption of households is essential for the effective use of renewable energy sources, in order to ensure that as much household demand as possible can be met by renewable sources. This entails spreading out the use of high-powered appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines throughout the day. Traditional approaches to this problem have relied on differential pricing set by a centralised utility company. But this mechanism has not been effective in promoting widespread shifting of appliance usage. Here we consider an alternative decentralised mechanism, where agents receive an initial allocation of time-slots to use their appliances and can then exchange these with other agents. If agents are willing to be more flexible in the exchanges they accept, then overall satisfaction, in terms of the percentage of agents’ time-slot preferences that are satisfied, will increase. This requires a mechanism that can incentivise agents to be more flexible. Building on previous work, we show that a mechanism incorporating social capital — the tracking of favours given and received — can incentivise agents to act flexibly and give favours by accepting exchanges that do not immediately benefit them. We demonstrate that a mechanism that tracks favours increases the overall satisfaction of agents, and crucially allows social agents that give favours to outcompete selfish agents that do not under payoff-biased social learning. Thus, even completely self-interested agents are expected to learn to produce socially beneficial outcomes.

Research Theme Leading the Session: Cyber Physical Systems

Research Theme Leaders:

  • Professor Subramanian Ramamoorthy, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Christian Dondrup, Heriot Watt University 

Brief outline of session:

Title of Session 1: Dr Rik Sarkar, Lecturer in the School of Informatics at University of Edinburgh will present a talk on ‘Targeted interventions reduce spread of COVID-19: A simulation study on human mobility’

Title of Session 2: Dr Vaishak Belle, Chancellor’s Fellow and Faculty at the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh will present a talk on ‘Fair & Responsible AI’

Title of Session: Surviving the world of fake news and misinformation.

Research Theme Leading the Session: Cyber Security

Research Theme Leader:
Dr Deepayan Bhowmik
University of Stirling

Brief outline of session: Emergence of fake news and misinformation spread causes major challenges in all walks of life from spreading propaganda, hate crime, cyberbullying, influencing political campaign. Experts from various disciplines, including computing, social and political sciences, journalism etc., are currently researching on finding holistic solutions. This session aims at bringing together researchers who are actively working in this domain.

The session will have three research talks to understand fake news and its potential mitigation through natural language processing, multimedia processing and social sciences. The talks will be followed by a panel discussion to understand the scale of the problem and how an interdisciplinary approach can help in solving this.


  1. George Weir, Computer and Information Sciences, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK.
    Classifying dangerous texts: Extremist Web content and fake news in social networks
  2. Catherine Happer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow, UK.
    Online content moderation and the management of public opinion
  3. Fernando Pereira, Department of Electrical and Computers Engineering, Instituto Superior Técnico, Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal.
    JPEG Fake Media: Challenges for a Missing Standard

Research Theme Leading the Session: Data Science

Research Theme Leaders:

  • Dr Yashar Moshfeghi, University of Strathclyde
  • Professor Mike Chantler, Heriot Watt University

Brief outline of session:

First Keynote: (11:00-11:45)

Professor Roma Maguire

Title: Citizen Generated Data: Potential and Challenges

Abstract: Professor Maguire will focus her presentation on the advancing the use of citizen generated data and artificial intelligence to optimise clinical decision making and enable the delivery of more personalised and targeted care. Using examples from her own research, her presentation will take on a ‘real world’ lens discussing the benefits and challenges and human factors that need to be considered to advance this important data science agenda.

Second Keynote – 11:45-12:30

Professor Nick Bailey

Title: “Doing data science for Sustainable Societies”

Abstract: This presentation will focus on the work of the Urban Big Data Centre at the University of Glasgow. Established in 2014, the UBDC is a multi-disciplinary collaboration of social scientists and data scientists. It is both a research centre and part of the UK’s national data infrastructure. From our efforts over the last six years, we have amassed a wide experience in the challenges of delivering research and analysis to support policies for Sustainable Societies. This presentation reflects on that experience and, in particular, the many challenges in doing effective, impactful urban data science.

Talk 1: Human-robot interaction with rural populations in developing countries

Dr Amol Deshmukh, University of Glasgow 

People build expectations about robots due to their exposure to media and their interaction with technology. Currently, social robotics research predominantly takes place in the developed world. On the other hand, rural populations in developing countries make up almost half the world’s population, but the influence and perception of social robots on these communities has barely been investigated. Rural populations in developing countries have limited exposure and access to different technologies due to their geographically remote and reduced economic background. Social robots could potentially create a positive impact in their lives, but they have rarely been tested with people from rural backgrounds in developing countries which leaves a big scientific gap in the field of social robotics. In this talk, Dr Deshmukh will describe 2 case studies using social robots with rural populations in developing countries focusing on UN’s sustainable development goals on Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH). User perception and technology acceptance of 1) A water hauling social robot in a rural village in India, 2) A wall-mounted social robot that encourages school children to wash their hands. He will also discuss some of the challenges for social robotics research with rural communities.

Talk 2: Sustaining Participation in a Sustainable Community Platform

Dr Daniel Rough, University of Dundee

Online communities that form through sociotechnical platforms require significant effort to cultivate and sustain. Providing open, transparent information on community behaviour can motivate participation from community members, but challenges arise in both understanding what information is conducive to engagement and sustainability, and then how best to represent this information to platform users. In this talk, I’ll present, a Collective Awareness Platform for Social Innovation, through which people experiencing precarious income and employment conditions can take action to improve their situations through cooperation. I’ll describe our aim and approach to conceptualise and represent ‘reputation’ in the platform in such a way that encourages collaboration rather than competition

Talk 3: Emoji Accessibility for People with Visually Impairments

Dr Rachel Menzies, University of Dundee

Emoji are graphical symbols that appear in many aspects of our lives. Worldwide, around 36 million people are blind and 217 million have a moderate to severe visual impairment. This portion of the population may use and encounter emoji, yet it is unclear what accessibility challenges emoji introduce. In this talk I will outline research conducted to understand how visually impaired participants use and encounter emoji online, and the challenges they experience. You will learn how emoji are used, the different accessibility challenges that they can present, and best practices for making sure that your emoji content is accessible and usable for a varied user group.

Title of Session: Strong Foundations for a Sustainable Future

This session will consist of three talks by experts from academia and industry that will highlight (i) current challenges in Programming Languages and Verification and (ii) ways in which our fundamental research can help to build a sustainable society.


11:05 AI Verification, in need of Programming Language support
(Prof Ekaterina Komendantskaya, Heriot Watt University)

11:35 Optimising Prescribing with SMT solvers
(Dr Juliana Bowles, St Andrews University)

12:05 Sustainable Open Financial Systems
(Nick Nayfack, IOHK)

Research Theme Leaders:
Lilia Georgieva, Heriot Watt University
Clemens Kupke, University of Strathclyde

Research Pools

The future Sustainable Society presents many challenges that stretch across the globe and many different sectors of the economy.

To address these challenges, an international and interdisciplinary approach is required. The sessions in this track have been developed jointly with our partner research pools as part of our shared vision to collaborate across Disciplines. The sessions focus on research themes and challenges that have the genuine potential to span disciplines and initiate the discussions that will lead to a research roadmap that engages multiple disciplines in addressing them.


Title of Session: Data Sciences & Brain Health Across the Life Course

Institution Leading Session: SINAPSE 

Lead organiser: Dr Kristin Flegal, SINAPSE Lead Scientist

Brief outline of session: This session addresses multidisciplinary challenges in the early detection of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, and new opportunities to build capacity in Scotland by integrating data science with brain health research areas of neurobiology and neuroimaging. Brief presentations will be given by a panel of researchers who are working to develop new collaborations across disciplinary boundaries of clinical brain research, preclinical brain research, and computing science, followed by open discussion with session participants.

Gerry Thompson, Senior Clinical Lecturer in Radiology at University of Edinburgh and Honorary Consultant Neuroradiologist for NHS Lothian, will represent the SINAPSE medical imaging research pool with a presentation on brain imaging data for dementia biomarker discovery.

Bettina Platt, Chair in Translational Neuroscience at the University of Aberdeen, will represent the SULSA life sciences research pool with a presentation on translational, multidisciplinary approaches in dementia research, from experimental to (pre-)clinical domains.

Mike Chantler, Professor of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University, will represent the SICSA informatics and computing sciences research pool with a presentation on topic modelling and data visualisation to identify content and trends within large free-text datasets. Examples will include models of 60,000 Covid publications and UKRI grants databases.

Graciela Muniz Terrera, Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at University of Edinburgh, will represent the Scottish Dementia Research Consortium (SDRC) with a presentation on challenges that remain for delivering clinical impact from predictive models of brain health and dementia risk.

SINAPSE, SULSA, SICSA and SDRC are jointly initiating an interdisciplinary brain health research network to enable advancements in innovative computational and mathematical methods for dementia prediction, analysis, and modelling which will be applicable in a routine healthcare setting. After the panellists’ presentations on their respective research areas, aims for new collaborations bringing together these separate research communities will be outlined and the remainder of the session will be open for collective ideation and conversation. Hot topics within the neurodegeneration research pathway from lab bench to patient will be identified through discussion, and associated with skills needs from computing science. The session organisers plan to fund a series of sandpits in these areas as an outcome.


Title of Session: Rising to the Challenge

Institution Leading Session: Scottish Rural College

Lead organiser: Dr Hannah Rudman, Senior Challenge Research Fellow

Brief outline of session: This session will introduce Computer Scientists to SRUC – Scotland’s Rural College, which has  just appointed new academic fellows to lead the organisation on some of the biggest challenges and opportunities of the 21st Century.

The Challenge Fellows are working on areas such as climate change, food production, food security, digital innovation and growing the natural economy.

Four Fellows will briefly introduce their research focus and highlight problems that Computer Scientists could help them solve.

There will be opportunity for initial ideation with each researcher in the session.

The aim is to see whether any potential solutions to the problems identified are worth workshopping further into collaborative projects, with SICSA support.

1315: Dr Hannah Rudman: Introduction to SRUC and the Challenge Driven Centres, and issues around digital trust.

1325: Group ideation/discussion

1330: Dr Vijai Gupta: Application of computer-aided LCA analysis studies to evaluate the environmental impact assessment of biobased biorefinery concepts and microbial bioprocesses

1335: Group ideation/discussion

1345: Dr Neil Burns:  Automation of video analysis for marine science

1350: Group ideation/discussion

1400: Dr Bingjie Li: When genetics meet informatics in animal breeding

1415: Dr Jacqueline Stroud: Pro-environmental behaviours fostered by farmers using Twitter will lead to …?

1420: Group ideation/discussion

1430: Ends 

University of Aberdeen

Title of Session: Developing the Future of Transport

Institution Leading Session: University of Aberdeen 

Lead organiser: Dr Caitlin Cottrill, Senior Lecturer, School of Geosciences

Brief outline of session: The transport sector is currently in a time of rapid evolution, largely due to increasing integration of technology in how we plan for, communicate, and offer transport services. From the emergence of Mobility as a Service (MaaS), to developments in connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs), to improved information on active travel, technology underpins and enables the provision of more efficient and effective services to provide mobility for all.

Despite these innovations, however, it is evident that more effective integration of disciplines is needed for further development of research and implementation. Given the complexities of the transport environment, which involves dynamic spatio-temporal data, regulatory requirements, behavioural uncertainties, and rapid decision-making by travellers, it is clear that there is a wealth of skills necessary for fully realising effective mobility. Computing science is a critical enabler of intelligent mobility, and transport, in turn, provides abundant opportunities for the realisation of computing science ‘on the ground’. However, a growing skills gap is evident, with further interdisciplinary engagement needed to develop the components that make for an effective transport network, including social science, HCI, data science, machine learning, and ethics.

In this session, our speakers will reflect on the emerging needs and opportunities for computing science input in the transport sector, followed by discussion of how to facilitate collaboration and engage new entrants in this rapidly-evolving field.

  • 1:15 – Introduction: Dr Caitlin Cottrill
  • 1:20 – Dr Rik Sarkar (Edinburgh)
  • 1:35 – Mr Saeed Maadi (Glasgow)
  • 1:50 – Dr Patrizia Franco (Connected Places Catapult)
  • 2:05 – Speaker Q&A
  • 2:35 – Facilitated discussion
    • What CS skills are needed in transport?
    • How can we encourage collaboration between CS and transport disciplines?
    • What opportunities are currently available?


The award of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Chemistry “for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems” demonstrates the increasing importance of computing for the conduct of research in chemistry. Simulations implemented in software and executed on high performance compute facilities enable the enabling the analysis of chemical processes that would be either too complex or too costly (or both) to replicate in the physical world. To date, the interactions between computing and chemistry have largely resulted from chemists leveraging existing computing technologies and applying them within their own disciplines and research agendas.

However, new research directions are emerging that have the potential for genuinely inter-disciplinary research interactions that set challenges for researchers in both discipline. These include the use of automation in experimental laboratories, design of domain specific languages, the simulation of large scale experiments and the analysis and verification of large scale data sets.

We don’t pretend to be able to fully enumerate the potential interdisciplinary challenges at the intersection of Computing and Chemistry. Instead, SICSA and ScotChem are organising a joint workshop /Beyond Computational Chemistry/ to explore these and other new interdisciplinary challenge areas. The workshop will take place within the annual SICSA Conference on the 1st October. Keynote speakers, Professor Lee Cronin and Dr Tomas Lebl will initiate the discussion by presenting on their own experience of working at the intersection of Chemistry and Computing. Dr Alan Wiles will then lead a follow up discussion on the future challenges in this area.

Talk 1: Chemputers as a Chemical Processing Unit: CPU

Leroy (Lee) Cronin, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK.

We are entering the era of Digital-Chemistry whereby computer control can be used to monitor reactions, calculate reactivity and predict routes to targets but what next? In this talk I will explain how a programmable chemical computer or ‘chemputer’ can be used to do organic synthesis reactions making the process of chemical synthesis, safer, cheaper, more reliable, and freeing the chemist to focus on the more interesting aspects of synthesis, exploring for new reactivity and reactions – enabled by letting computers programme chemistry. But how is this possible? We had to devise a new architecture that would allow all chemistry to be done using a programming code in an universal way. This works because it is possible to make a hard link between the process of chemistry that is done in almost all labs in the world, using batch chemistry, and a programmable architecture that would allow us to make a universal programmable chemical synthesis engine.

Talk 2: NOMAD – NMR Online Management And Datastore

Tomas Lebl, School of Chemistry, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK

In the last decade, amount of NMR data that large NMR facilities produce has dramatically increased due to high efficiency of fully automated instruments. However, this large quantity of data is not accordingly stored and shared despite of its considerable intrinsic value. NMR spectroscopy is lacking a global data depository that would be an equivalent of CCDC for X-ray crystallography data. The status quo has not been changing much despite of the open access data enforcement of research councils and initiatives like Go Fair [1] and NMReDATA [2]. We believe that the core of the issue is at the bottom of the pyramid. Data management in academic NMR laboratories is rather poor as the raw data are usually stored on a network drive without any metadata and search facilities. When the research is concluded, finding and uploading data into research data depository like Figshare or Zenodo becomes a troublesome commitment that researchers rather avoid at any cost.
NOMAD tries to solve the problem from the bottom up by providing smart and complete solution for NMR laboratory data management that enables to store NMR data securely and robustly together with provenance meta-data and facilitates sharing and audibility. It automatically captures and stores data generated by NMR instruments and provides seamless tools for annotating, sharing and editing the data through easily accessible web browser interface. Furthermore, NOMAD offers a centralised dashboard for the management of large automated NMR laboratories that operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. In long term, we envisage that NOMAD could form a peer-to-peer network of nodes that would facilitate exchange of raw NMR data between participants in accordance with FAIR Data Principles and potentially lead the way towards a decentralised NMR big data depository.

  1. Wilkinson, M. D. et al., Scientific Data, 3, 160018, 2016. (doi:10.1038/sdata.2016.18)
  2. Pupier, M. et al., Magn Reson Chem., 56, 703–715, 2018. (doi: 10.1002/mrc.4737)