Bright sparks launch ’digital Britain’ doctoral centre

Bright sparks launch ’digital Britain’ doctoral centre

PA 284/09

The University of Nottingham has provided a foretaste of its new 40 million pound Horizon Digital Economy ‘Hub’, a research centre connecting researchers from many varied disciplines who will use their knowledge, skills and imagination to create computing applications to transform the way we live.

The Horizon Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) launched with a bang at the Jubilee Campus in Nottingham at 3pm on November 5. The event showcased 19 high-achieving doctoral students already recruited to pioneer interdisciplinary research as part of the Hub, as well as presentations and exhibitions of work associated with the Horizon Digital Economy Hub such as the Mixed Reality Lab’s Thrill research project.

Businesses supporting the Hub and providing internships to Doctoral Training Centre students met academic researchers from across the University and joined Nottingham’s Lord Mayor, Councillor Jeanie Packer, to explore the Hub’s innovative research activities. A firework display recreated Horizon’s sunburst logo, bringing the event to an end.

The Horizon Digital Economy Hub and Doctoral Training Centre are funded by Research Councils UK as part of their initiative to stimulate the development of world-leading applications and technologies that exploit the possibilities of ubiquitous computing – ’blurring the boundaries between the physical world and the digital world’.

The University of Nottingham centre will develop new ways to use the electronic ’footprints’ we leave behind whenever we use mobile, internet and other digital technologies, and new ways to utilise digital technologies to help business and stimulate economic growth.

Supported by research council funding, the University and over 30 industry partners, the DTC offers students the opportunity to undertake an exciting four-year PhD programme exploring ubiquitous and location-aware computing and the increasing impact of these innovative technologies on our daily life.

Professor Steve Benford, Head of the School of Computing, leads the DTC within the Horizon Digital Economy ’Hub’. He said: “I am very excited by the quality and mix of students that we have already recruited into the Centre and I am looking forward to seeing them work with our industry partners on innovative new research projects that will transform our emerging digital economy right the way from sensors through to society.”

Expertise within the Centre spans diverse disciplines and candidates from a range of backgrounds including computer science, engineering, geospatial science, psychology, sociology, humanities, business, and the arts are welcome to apply.

The 19 students include an artist and designer, theatre analyst and linguist, international relations researcher, geospatial and artificial intelligence innovator, electronic engineer and web applications developer, a programmer and poet, a product integration designer, telecommunications and wireless technology specialist, a geographer and anthropologist, usability designer, and several psychologists.

Rob Mitchelmore is one of the first recruits to the Horizon Doctoral Training Centre. “The cross-disciplinary nature of the Centre was the first thing that attracted me,” he said. “When I’d studied at university in the past, no one seemed to talk to researchers in other departments – which was rather sad. I’ve always had one foot in the arts and one in the sciences.”

With his BSc in Computer Science, wide-ranging experience as a lead technologist for a small backbone internet service provider and a long-standing interest in writing poetry, Rob brings a remarkable diversity of interests to his research studentship.

So how does poetry relate to programming? And how does understanding one enrich the other? “A formal mathematical proof is not much different to a poem. There’s an internal logic to poetry, which seeks to describe ideas as perfectly as possible within given constraints,” says Rob.

“I’m interested in building systems that allow some degree of more formal modelling of how people interact with computers. This will improve our understanding of ‘human-computer interfaces’ and help respond better to designing technology that can ‘optimize out’ to computers the boring bits of processing ideas.”

All DTC students receive project supervision from internationally renowned researchers, and benefit from opportunities to work alongside industry leaders. They also have full use of the DTC’s state-of-the-art facilities, as well as dedicated office and laboratory space. To facilitate their studies, each student is issued with a personal laptop at the start of the programme.

During their first 18 months of the PhD training programme, students undertake a three-month salaried internship with one of Horizon’s industrial partners, they have the time and support to develop their research proposals and explore subject areas, and they embark upon a programme of taught modules covering: human-centred design; innovation and entrepreneurship; research methods and tools; societal issues and policy; and ubiquitous technologies.

Equipped with excellent subject knowledge and invaluable research skills, students will then research their chosen area, either creating new technologies or studying their impact.

The research taking place at the Horizon Digital Economy Hub will explore the vision of a new digital society for the 21st century, where the impact of the digital economy will offer tremendous commercial potential.

The national and international impact of the project is illustrated by the pledged support of 16 million from The University of Nottingham, together with 7.5 million from commercial partners such as Experian, Ordnance Survey, Microsoft, ScienceScope, TRL, KTN, the BBC, the British Library, BT, EADS Astrium, emda, Nottingham City Council, OGC and many others, enabling the research to develop and study next generation services, producing landmark examples that are grounded in the experience of deployment ‘in the wild’.

Doctoral Training Centre Studentships are offered on a competitive basis. They cover full fees and include an enhanced, tax-free stipend of 15,000 per annum. The Centre also provides travel funds to support attendance at international conferences. Demand for places has been high and a few students from overseas have funded their own places to be part of the DTC group.

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