Alumni day showcases Computer Science research

26 September 2017

Professor Sebastian Link
Professor Sebastian Link

So your new data set has arrived – hundreds of columns and rows of numbers. How do you merge that with your existing data so you can derive more insight?

That was the question Department of Computer Science Professor Sebastian Link discussed at the Alumni and Postgraduate Showcase 2017, held on Saturday, September 23 at the Science Centre. The departments of Computer Science, Statistics and Mathematics came together to present short and lively talks on current research, display hands-on technology and postgraduate students’ work, and provide course information.

Sebastian said that the first step in getting any data to an analysable state was data profiling – getting to know what was in your rows and columns and the relationships between them. You might be able to use phone numbers as a proxy for a person, for example, or a postcode for an area. But the “search space” was often massive – for example, a table with 100 columns, he said, could give you 1.3 nonillion combinations. That’s 1 plus 30 zeroes.

Sebastian and colleagues Dr Mozhgan Memari and Dr Henning Koehler have developed a programme called Snooperior, a tool with a variety of algorithms that can discover and visualise data relationships even where there is incorrect and missing data. The user decides which relationships are most meaningful. And yes, the name morphs the words superior and snooping.

Among the alumni who attended the showcase was Greg Trounson, who did his BSc in Mathematics and Physics and a MSc in Physics in the Faculty of Science, finishing in 1981. Greg, who now works in IT, was drawn back by curiosity and nostalgia. “I wanted to see how things had changed since I left,” he said. “I was curious to get a feel of what it’s like here today.” When he was a student, computing meant using punch-card machines, which he saw again on a tour of the Computer Science history display, spread across five levels of the Science Centre. Greg also tried out various technologies on display at the showcase, including a computer screen controlled by eye movement:

The most memorable talk to him, said Greg, was by Professor Steven Galbraith from Mathematics about bitcoin: “I wanted to understand how that works.” His overall impression of the day? “It’s interesting to see what is being done that is relevant to the real world. There are lots of practical things being studied.”

See photos from the day on Facebook.