Name: Dr Mark Read
Age range: 26-29
Research institution: Department of Electronics, University of York
Research career length: 5 years
Research Council: Previously funded by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Now funded by the European Commission
Location: York, England
Brief summary of research: I use computers simulations to understand diseases and how to treat them, and also take inspiration from how the immune system works to control robotic systems
A-levels: Mathematics, Physics, Computing
MEng in Computer Science and Systems Engineering, University of York
PhD in Computer Science, University of York
Research Associate, University of York
PhD in Computer Science, University of York
Placement year at IBM, Hursley
MEng in Computer Science, University of York
Please give us a description of your job / research, and tell us what inspired you to do what you’re doing...
I am a researcher on an EU-funded project, CoCoRo. My job is hugely varied, which is great! I create computer simulations of disease, in order to understand it, and how we might design treatments and drugs. But that’s only half my job. The other half entails taking what I learn from how the immune system combats disease and using that knowledge to design software to control robots. I work in the field of ‘swarm robotics’, where a problem is solved by a swarm of relatively simple and (relatively) expendable robots, rather than one. There is a clear analogy to the immune system: cells in your body don’t solve problems like fighting disease by working alone, they communicate and work together.
During my degree I became very interested in “non-standard” computation – solving problems through ideas that come from the natural world. I decided to do a PhD to investigate this field further. When I realised the power that computer simulation could have in the future to inform drug discovery, to simulate human beings and help doctors understand the best medicine for a particular individual, given their medical history, I was hooked. We’re a long way off doing that, but I hope my research will help pave the way.
Describe your typical day...
I start work around 8. I might read some academic papers on immunology or robotics to learn about something I think will be useful, or to keep up with developments in the field. I design algorithms, or simulations, and run them on a powerful computer grid. This involves working with computers and programming quite a lot. My results will come in and I’ll use statistics (I never thought this was taught well at school – but once you have a problem to solve statistics offers some incredibly powerful tools) to analyse them and find out what they mean. I speak to immunologists, or to other robotics people on the project to collaborate and push our work forward. I’m also involved in the supervision of students, and so may have some meetings with them in the afternoons to discuss their work, to guide them and support their own research. There’s huge variation in my work, from one week to the next I can be working on completely different problems: one week I’ll be learning some immunology, then programming simulations around it, then working with computer systems to make them execute, then doing some robotics, writing papers, learning about statistics; there’s a bit of everything in my job. And its very flexible, I have enough free time to play a lot of sport, see my partner, see my cats, play guitar… I’m currently learning how to bake bread :o)
Do you have a 'pet project'?
In terms of research? I suppose so. There are more and more people out there creating simulations of disease. I’m specifically interested in how you learn to trust these – they are human made programs of diseases we don’t understand. There’s nothing to really guarantee that what they tell you is true. And would you believe it, I think at the heart of this issue is statistics again.
What do you love most about science / engineering or maths?
A person has to do something with their life, I love that what I’m doing is helping push human understanding forward. I feel a great sense of satisfaction from knowing that my efforts can make a real contribution to something real, and that could eventually help change the face of biological research. The intellectual challenge is immense, and solving a hard problem is very satisfying.
Where I live...
York, a beautiful friendly city, which hosts a wonderful University.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I’m a huge fan of music. I used to DJ drum and bass as a hobby, and I’m teaching myself to play guitar. I’m also a complete fitness fanatic; I play squash most days of the week. My wonderful girlfriend also receives a lot of my time, and we recently got kittens that are fun but need management to stop tearing the house down. I have recently discovered the “podcast”- I now drive around listening to interesting stories.
Computer Science, Immunology, Modelling and Simulation
Department of Electronics, University of York
Playing the guitar, keeping fit, playing squash
This career case study originally appeared on the NOISE (New Outlooks in Science & Engineering) webpage on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) website. NOISE is a UK-wide initiative to promote science and engineering. Originally funded by EPSRC, NOISE is now an independent platform for early career researchers to engage with the general public about the importance of research and inspire your people to consider STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers.