Photo:

Marina De Vos

It has been a pleasure to participate.

Favourite Thing: My favourite part of science is the solution hunting for my research problems and finding ways to crack its secrets. I always get very excited when I finally put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Victory!!!

My CV

Education:

Most of my studies took place in Belgium. At school in my home town Lier, I studied the equivalent of what soon will be the English Baccelorate with emphasis on Math and Further Maths. I finished in 1994. After that I did a equvalent of Bachelor and Msc in Computer Science at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium. I graduated in 1998. At the same university I obtained my Phd (Doctor of Science) in 2002.

Qualifications:

PGCLTHE, PhD, PGCE, MSc

Work History:

During my PhD I work as a teaching assistant, helping undergraduate students with their programming. After my Phd, I started my current job at the university of Bath

Current Job:

Senior Lecturer in Computer Science

Employer:

University of Bath

Me and my work

I work as a computer scientist to let programs make decisions on their own, so they can compose music, assist us in our daily lives or preserve buildings after earthquakes.

My research falls in an area that is called artificial intelligence. AI is part understanding what is intelligence, how can we recognise it and part providing programs/systems with capabilities to think and act without constant human intervention. I am interested in the latter, in making system autonomous. At the same time I am interested in what computer scientist call complex problems: problems for which solutions are easy to verify (that they are indeed solutions) but that are difficult to find.

A lot of computer science involves mathematics and I really like that aspect. So while some computer scientists are more drawn to the human interaction/psychology side of the science, I prefer working with tools that can be mathematically proven.

For those of you that have done programming before, you probably have worked with languages like phd, python, java, visual basic. These are what we CS people call procedural or object oriented programming languages. As a programmer, you have to tell the program step by step how to solve the problem. Once you have done that, you can run the program and the program will give you the solution.

But have you ever come across logic programming languages? Prolog? These are so-called declarative language. Rather than stating how to solve a problem, you describe the problem and how a solution needs to look like. Once you run the program, you will get the solution to the problem. Declarative programming languages are the type of languages that I am interested in. They allow you to relatively easy solve a problem without having to know how to solve it.  For those interested in mathematics, these languages have a very nice mathematical foundation.

I use this programming language to solve a variety of problems. One example is ANTON, an automated music composition system: a program that composes pieces of music with me only telling it how long the piece should be and whether it should be a solo or a duet. myimage4 shows a piece Anton wrote as my wedding gift. An other application is PERPETUATE. It is used to check how damaged buildings are after an earthquake and how they might collapse. myimage3 shows one of the collapse mechanism where one side of the building detached due to severe vertical cracks on the side.

Since you (hopefully) will be asking me questions, I have a question for you. Can you guess what this program does? Do not worry too much about the format of the program. Instead read the comments (lines starting with %%).

%% There are 9 possible locations in each of two dimensions
position(1 .. 9).

%% Each square may take a value of 1 to 9
value(1 .. 9).

%% state(X,Y,N) is true if the state of square X in row Y has value N

%% Each square may take any value
1 \{ state(X,Y,N) : value(N) \}  1 :- position(X), position(Y).\\

%% A number cannot appear twice in a column
:- state(XA,Y,N), state(XB,Y,N), position(XA), position(XB),
position(Y), value(N), XA != XB.\\

%% A twice in a row is not allowed
:- state(X,YA,N), state(X,YB,N), position(X), position(YA) ,
position(YB),value(N), YA != YB.

%% Define the concept of locality
%% These are 3 by 3 sub squares
sameSubSquare(1,2).
sameSubSquare(2,3).
sameSubSquare(4,5).
sameSubSquare(5,6).
sameSubSquare(7,8).
sameSubSquare(8,9).

%% Make it symmetric and transitive
sameSubSquare(X,Y) :- sameSubSquare(Y,X), position(X), position(Y).\\
sameSubSquare(X,Z) :- sameSubSquare(X,Y), sameSubSquare(Y,Z),
position(X), position(Y), position(Z).\\

%% Now say there may not be two of the same number in the same subsquare
%% Inequalities not actually needed.
:- state(XA,YA,N), state(XB,YB,N), sameSubSquare(XA,XB),
sameSubSquare(YA,YB), position(XA),
position(XB), position(YA), position(YB),
value(N), XA != XB, YA != YB.

My Typical Day

For me there is no such things as a typical day; there is too much variety in them which is one of the things I like about my job

A typical academic year consists of three parts: first semester (Oct-Jan), second semester (Feb-May) and the summer months. For me the first semester is my teaching semester. During these months my main activity is teaching, preparing for teaching and meeting my students. These will also be the months that write up the work that I have been doing during the summer months. My second semester is mainly research although I will be helping students with their projects. The summer months is mostly research. On a research day, I will often talk (in person, via skype or google chat) to other scientists about new ideas or work with them to solve one of our current problems. Alternatively I am writing up results so I can show them to other people working on similar problems. Scientists in a area often meet at conference. These are events that allow scientists to tell colleagues what problems they have solved. I attend normally about 2 of those events a year.  When I am not trying to solve scientific problems, I help my department with administration tasks. I am involved in what we call outreach activities. I go to schools or organise school visits to campus and offer pupils a taste of computer science and/or the life at university.

Occasionally I have the opportunity to visit one of my colleagues abroad and experience what it is like to work in a different university or research lab in a different country.

This is how my diary looked liked when I wrote this text:

  • 9:00: Research meeting with Phd student and colleague in Abbu Dabi
  • 10:00: Skype meeting with colleagues about a research paper that is due in March
  • 11:00: Recruitment and Outreach Meeting
  • 12:00: Working on research paper that is due today
  • 13:00: Lunch
  • 14:00: Meeting with Phd student
  • 14:30: Meeting with Phd student
  • 15:00: Finishing research paper and give it to co-author for checking
  • 16:30: Meeting Phd Student

I normally do not start at 9:00. I tend to be more of an evening person so if I have no meetings I start later and work later in the evening

 

 

What I'd do with the money

Buy equipment for hands-on computer science taster sessions

Over the years I have visited schools for guest lectures and organised school visits to tell pupils more about computer science as a subject and discipline. I try to make these activities as hands-on as possible. Currently I have two activities but would like to be able to offer a wider variety. My wish list at the moment is:  Creating your own mobile phone app, Create your own embedded system, Introduction to programming, Introduction to artificial intelligence.

These activities require equipment like a mobile phones to demonstrate the apps, and arduino (embedded systems) kits, usb sticks to store the necessary software so schools would not have to install the software before the visit. The prize money would be used to buy this equipment.  So the money goes indirectly to the schools and their pupils.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Workaholic, perfectionist and stubborn (in random order)

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Depends on my mood. Shakira, Il Divo, Madredeus, Nightwish, Adele, Scissor Sisters, Chopin

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Strangely enough, planning my wedding

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

professorship, more time in a day, more cooking equipement

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was still at primary school, I wanted to become prime minister. At high school, I wanted to join the military academy. But doing computer science in my last two years, convinced we I really wanted to become a computer scientist.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

No, I was too shy to cause trouble. Still shy but not shy enough not to cause trouble

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Difficult one. Others should decide that. I am most proud of my work on music composition, especially after it wrote me a wedding song.

Tell us a joke.

Telling jokes is not one of my strengths. I do enjoy the Dilbert cartoons.

Other stuff

Work photos:

My office is where my laptop is. Sorry, no beach pictures. I have strict no laptop policy when I am on holiday.

Most of my time is divided by my desk at the university and my home office (also know as living room).

This is my not so tidy office: myimage2

My home office is slightly tidier: myimage1

My essential office items are: laptop and coffee. Chair and desk are optional and for some task not desired.