Now that data is ubiquitous, how do we make it useful?

We are proud to welcome back one of our distinguished alumni and honorary graduate, Professor Mandy Chessell, for the final Distinguished Lecture series of the year on Tuesday 6 June, 5-6pm in Huxley 300.

As digital technology sweeps through every aspect of our lives, data has become ubiquitous. The problem is that much of this data is useless because it no longer has enough context with it for people, processes and analytics to understand what it means.

This is an amazing opportunity to hear Professor Chessell examine current data management practices and tools and explain why data loses its context. She proposes an alternative and open approach that will expand our ability to use data to its full extent. She also looks at the issue of providing appropriate protection and governance to valuable intellectual property and sensitive data.

Professor Chessell CBE FREng CEng FBCS is an IBM Distinguished Engineer, Master Inventor, member of the IBM Academy of Technology and Fellow of the Royal Academy. Read her profile.

Find out more and book your place at the lecture here.

Brighton SEO – keeping me up-to-date

brighton seoI’ve just got back from another interesting Brighton SEO conference. I started going to these twice yearly (April and September) events a few years ago when there were only a couple of hundred people attending. At today’s event there were about 3,500 attendees, 9 different streams and over 90 speakers all packed into the Brighton Centre. It’s a great way to find out the latest thinking in the digital marketing world and chat to practitioners from across the industry. I usually bump into current and former students and today was no exception. In terms of content, the conference has moved on from focusing on what marketers need to do to rank more highly in search results to include social media marketing, pay per click (PPC), AI and machine learning marketing applications, ecommerce and regulatory matters. I always recommend my students attend the event as tickets are free if you are quick off the mark (the free tickets normally all go in a few minutes!).

I could only stay until the lunch break but I’ve come away with some exciting ideas for updating my undergraduate and postgraduate digital marketing modules at the University of Brighton for the 2017/18 academic year. These include:

  • running workshops on implementing structured data to improve search rankings and results listings;
  • running some in-class demos of voice search using the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices and exploring what the implications of voice search are for marketers;
  • helping students understand the importance of the Google Knowledge Graph and what it means for search, particularly voice search;
  • running some demonstrations of the application of AI to search using services such as Pinterest’s “Shop the Look” and “Lens” and Google’s Translate service for images;
  • helping students understand the range of data sources which marketers can use to improve the application of analytics to market research and targeting. I think there will be some overlap here with my interest in the Internet of Things (IoT).

So, plenty of ideas to keep me busy over the next few months.

Soap Box Science’s first visit to Brighton

Head down to the seafront between 1-4pm on Saturday 29 July and celebrate women in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) with Soapbox Science.

Soapbox Science hosts events across the UK and the world raising the profile of women in science – breaking down barriers and challenging stereotypes about who a researcher is. And they are coming to Brighton for the first time this summer.
Chantal Nobs, a PhD student at the University of Brighton, was one of 12 women selected to participate in the Soapbox Science London event on London’s Southbank in 2016.

Find out more about the Brighton event here.

British Science Festival heads for Brighton

british-science-festival-logoOne of Europe’s leading and longest established science festivals is coming to Brighton next year. And we will be co-hosting it!

The University of Brighton will co-host the 2017 British Science Festival with the University of Sussex from 5-8 September.

The festival, organised by the British Science Association, will have a programme of over 100 events featuring cutting-edge science from world-leading academics covering everything from technology and engineering to social sciences.

Welcoming the announcement, Vice-Chancellor Professor Debra Humphris said: “I am delighted that the University of Brighton will be co-hosting the British Science Festival next year. We were keen to grasp this wonderful opportunity to showcase our world-leading research alongside cutting-edge science from around the globe in an accessible and engaging way.

“The city of Brighton & Hove is world-renowned for its Arts Festival. By hosting the British Science Festival, we can throw open the doors of our facilities to the wider community, including our new state-of-the-art Advanced Engineering Building that is currently under construction.”

We’ll keep you posted as more details are confirmed, and hope to see you all there!

University building scoops top award

The project to refurbish the University of Brighton’s iconic Cockcroft Building has won in the Higher Education category of the prestigious Architects’ Journal Retrofit Awards 2016.

The Cockcroft Building on the University’s Moulsecoomb campus has been a familiar landmark on Brighton’s Lewes Road since the 1960’s.

The awards jury said: “This is a bold project, particularly from a sustainability point of view – and a model for future similar projects. It focuses well on how people use the building. The exterior has been elegantly improved and the interior creatively revamped.”


Welcoming the award, Vice-Chancellor, Professor Debra Humphris said: “This is really excellent news and I congratulate the team involved in this major project. The refurbishment of the Cockcroft Building is an important part of our ongoing investment programme which aims to ensure that our students have access to world-class facilities.”

The multi-million pound refurbishment programme, which took three years to complete, was carried out whilst the building was still being used by staff and students and included:
• Development of state-of-the-art new learning laboratories and office spaces to house schools within the university’s College of Life, Health and Physical Sciences
• Installation of new windows to improve insulation throughout the building
• Exposing the ceiling space to highlight the architectural features of the building’s interior
• Opening up corridors in the building to improve lighting, people movement and provide social and informal learning spaces for students and staff to use.
• Reducing noise levels by putting in place sound buffering and dampening features
• Installing a new roof surface to improve insulation and energy efficiency.

ElectroMagnetic Fields (EMF) our third and final day

After a suprisingly good sleep I got up and again left the others to get themselves together whilst I started the day

VR workshop – I was super excited to get involved in this workshop. Armed with my laptop, Google Cardboard and smartphone I managed to create a very basic world in virtual reality just using HTML and Aframe.JS. This was so satisfying and defintely something I want to continue playing with! Massive thanks to Michael Straeubig for the workshop!
Realtime Web – I’m going to be honest, this workshop went a little over my head (and from the chatter I wasn’t the only one). It didn’t seem to lend itself to a workshop so well as only a few people could code at once but they did create some pretty cool stuff which affected each of our computer screens at once – such as changing the colour of a browser when a button was pressed to a colour we’d individually selected earlier.
A talk on how data is used in and from schools – This one was kind of scary in some ways. Schools are now being told to provide the government with country of birth details from students – this can’t be good. In light of the uncertainty from Brexit it might scare parents off sending their children to school in case it leads to deportation or something. Also the government have a database of details of every under 35 year old in the UK – acadmeic things from when we were at school and such like. All this can be passed on to compaines too…. Concerning eh? Find out more
Meditation for Hackers – I ended the festival with 2 hours of being taught meditation techniques. Nice. My favourite was to focus on all the sounds around you, try to focus on one particular one, then try to focus on two, then three. It’s hard and it doesn’t matter if you stop at 1 or 2 sounds, but it definitely shuts my brain up!

Unfortunately EMF Camp is only bi-annual. The next one isn’t until 2018 – booo! But for now we can satisfy that itch by watching the talks from this year here. And you can also find what I got up to on days one and two of this years event.

ElectroMagnetic Fields (EMF) Day 2

The next morning I got up bright and early (after a terrible and freezing night’s sleep) and left the others still getting themselves together to go off to a couple more talks.

Radios – A talk by amateur radio operators about how they’re involved in emergencies when the internet fails.
Socio-technical evolution – Igor Nikolic looked at Darwinism and how it is relevant to evolution today – including the use of technology by individuals and societies.
Building an open source political platform – This was a brilliant workshop. Open source politics is a system which everyone can be involved in. This version uses a Github repository and direct democracy. Anyone can submit policy ideas and then they’re voted on by other contributors. Through this repo, a politcal party was formed by James Smith (called Something New) and even had a couple of candidates stand for election in 2015 on the manifesto of the people. We got involved and added our own policy ideas too.
Badge Hack – As part of the ticket, each participant of EMFCamp was given an electornic badge. These came fully kitted out with LED screens, connected to WIFI, had snake inbuilt and even had their own phone numbers for SMS. They were incredible. In this workshop we were shown how to add an LED light to the badge and write a little python script to make a torch app on our badges. This was my first time writing python and my first time soldering something! No injuries – whoop!
Hebocon – We all know and love robot wars, awesome robots fighting to the death with cool weapons and tactics etc. Hebocon? Not so much tech and wonder, much more hilarity. A hebocon is a robot wars between crap robots. There were some fantastically shit robots submitted and 32 fought it out (or tried not to fall of the table and actually make contact with each other). One robot, for example, consisted of a Pikachu stuffed toy mounted on an egg timer. Another, was a fan from a laptop. Yet another was a wind-up penguin shieled inside a plastic cup (that one came second!). It was fantastically funny and I’m defitnely going to be on the look out for more to watch in the future.

After that I got some food and chilled out with people for a bit. We wandered around, meeting new people and taking cool light photos.

You can also read about day one and three.

Electromagnetic Field 2016 – a festival for teckies!

I was lucky enough to get myself a free ticket to this year’s ElectroMagnetic Fields Camp through a competition I found out about from Codebar Brighton. All I had to do was send them an email about why I felt under-represented in tech and then Yelp Engineering provided 4 of us with free tickets. Yay!

ElectroMagnetic Fields (EMF) is a non-profit festival run almost entirely by volunteers, and it is an incredible festival at that. I was pretty overexcited when I got a ticket and went through the line up of talks and workshops trying to prioritise what I should go to.

Here’s what we got up to on Day 1.

I was the first of our Codebar group to get there, set up camp in the middle of the festival and immediately started getting stuck in. The first day consisted of:
A mental health workshop – this was run by Andrew Gordon and took a look at mental health in a similar way to how I had done in education, there was a lot of discussion and studying of a real life case study before and twist in the narrative. A very engaging and thinky talk, if you have a chance to go to any of his stuff in the future, I would really recommend it.
3D printed sculptures of 4D things – Brain twisting and confusing, mathematically 4D shapes can’t exist but in the world of this talk they could and this was proved by 3D printing their shadows (No, I don’t really understand either). Fascinating but brain hurty. Talk by Henry Segerman
An Introduction to Mixology – Yum! Thanks to Ryan Alexander, I learnt how to make my first Old Fashioned (and yes, the bourbon was provided!). Tasting along every step really showed how each ingredient affects the flavour – an interesting, funny and rather scrummy hour!
A talk on Sex Robots – Yes, sex robots have been invented. What would you want yours to look like? a humanoid or something far from human? What will happen to the data stored in that? What if your sex-robot rejects you for the toaster? And other bonkers questions take seriously in that line of research from Kate Devlin. You can read her article on why we should be researching sex robots, not banning them, here.
Swing Dancing for Engineers – Hot, sweaty and good fun! It was packed out and there was hardly enough room to move let alon dance, but we managed it with a lot of laughs and tech jokes along the way.
After the talks it was time for a wander round the site looking at cool installations and meeting nice new people. Firepong, musical fire, LED garden, giant guitar hero with massive LED lights. Yes, basically lot’s of music, fire and colourful lights.

Check out what happened on days two and three.

Unfortunately EMF Camp is only bi-annual. The next one isn’t until 2018 – booo! But for now we can satisfy that itch by watching the talks from this year here.

Robot Wars

Yesterday, as part of my work with the Widening Participation Team, I spent the day helping teach year 7s from Shoreham Academy how to build ant-weight robots as part of their Raising Aspirations Programme. The idea of this project is to start discussing the idea of university with children from a young age by getting them to participate in a variety of activities and talk about university in particular as one option for their future.

A group of year 7s came up to visit Falmer campus yesterday and took part in a sports science activity and an engineering activity (which is the one I was involved in). I worked alongside two STEM ambassadors who provided all the materials and then got stuck in with the kids to design, build and ultimately compete with their robots. The teams had to enter a race, a game of football and a fight to the death with their robots. It was fantastic!

It was a pretty full on day but we built some impressive robots with just cardboard, skewers and straws (as well as the remote control, wheels and receiver). It was also brilliant to see the kids getting so excited, especially as this is a project that 2nd year students actually do at university (though with ‘proper’ materials). We all learnt a fair bit about robotics and designs and how the same materials could be adapted to suit different challenges.

Student Employee of the Year

I work in a small team of students called the Student Learning Technology Ambassadors. We work alongside the Learning Technology Ambassadors supporting staff and students with technical aspects of projects. These range from supporting lecturers using new programs in their classes, such as Nearpod or supporting students using applications for their coursework, such as studentfolio.

It started as an experiment to hire a team of students to provide this service which seems to have been deemed successful. So much so, that next year they are not only continuing the project but expanding it across all campuses – yay!

Our lovely manager Katie decided to honour our hard work by nominating our little team for the ‘Student Employee of the Year‘ award. I’m proud to announce that we achieved ‘Highly Commended’ in this category!

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