At the Raspberry Pi Foundation, we host a free online research seminar once a month to explore a wide variety of topics in the area of digital and computing education. This year, we’ve hosted eleven seminars — you can (re)discover slides and recordings on our website.
Now we’re getting ready for new seminars in 2021! In the coming months, our seminars are going to focus on diversity and inclusion in computing education. This topic is extremely important, as we want to make sure that computing is accessible to all, that we understand how to actively remove barriers to participation for learners, and that we understand how to teach computing in an inclusive way.
We are delighted to announce that these seminars focusing on diversity and inclusion will be co-hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering. The Royal Academy of Engineering is harnessing the power of engineering to build a sustainable society and an inclusive economy that works for everyone.
We’re very excited to be partnering with the Academy because of our shared interest in ensuring that computing and engineering are inclusive and accessible to all.
Our upcoming seminars
The seminars take place on the first Tuesday of the month at 17:00–18:30 GMT / 12:00–13:30 EST / 9:00–10:30 PST / 18:00–19:30 CET.
5 January 2021: Peter Kemp (King’s College London) and Billy Wong (University of Reading) will be looking at computing education in England, particularly GCSE computer science, and how it is accessed by groups typically underrepresented in computing.
2 February 2021: Professor Tia Madkins (University of Texas at Austin), Nicol R. Howard (University of Redlands), and Shomari Jones (Bellevue School District) will be talking about equity-focused teaching in K–12 computer science. Find out more.
2 March 2021: Dr Jakita O. Thomas (Auburn University, Alabama) will be talking about her research on supporting computational algorithmic thinking in the context of intersectional computing.
April 2021: event to be confirmed
4 May 2021: Dr Cecily Morrison (Microsoft Research) will be speaking about her work on physical programming for people with visual impairments.
Join the seminars
We’d love to welcome you to these seminars so we can learn and discuss together. To get access, simply sign up with your name and email address.
We’re proud to show our support for This is Engineering Day, an annual campaign from the Royal Academy of Engineering to bring engineering to life for young people by showcasing its variety and creativity. This year’s #BeTheDifference theme focuses on the positive impact engineering can have on everyday life and on the world we live in. So what better way for us to celebrate than to highlight our community’s young digital makers — future engineers — and their projects created for social good!
We’re also delighted to have special guest Dr Lucy Rogers on our This Is Engineering–themed Digital Making at Home live streamtoday at 5.30pm GMT, where she will share insights into her work as a creative inventor.
Future engineers creating projects for social good
In July, we were lucky enough to have Dr Hayaatun Sillem, CEO of the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng), as a judge for Coolest Projects, our technology fair for young creators. Dr Hayaatun Sillem says, “Engineering is a fantastic career if you want to make a difference, improve people’s lives, and shape the future.”
In total, the young people taking part in Coolest Projects 2020 online presented 560 projects, of which over 300 projects were made specifically for social good. Here’s a small sample from some future engineers across the world:
“I want people to put trash in the correct place so I made this AI trash can. This AI trash can separates the trash. I used ML2 Scratch. I used a camera to help the computer learn what type of trash it is.”
“As we know, burglary cases are very frequent and it is upsetting for the families whose houses are burglarised and [can] make them feel fearful, sad and helpless. Therefore, I tried to build a system which will help everyone to secure their houses.”
Tune in today: This is Engineering-themed live stream with special guest Dr Lucy Rogers
Professor Lucy Rogers PhD is an inventor with a sense of fun! She is a Fellow of the RAEng, and RAEng Visiting Professor of Engineering:Creativity and Communication at Brunel University, London. She’s also a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Adept at bringing ideas to life, from robot dinosaurs to mini mannequins — and even a fartometer for IBM! — she has developed her creativity and communication skills and shares her tricks and tools with others.
Here Dr Lucy Rogers shares her advice for young people who want to get involved in engineering:
1. Create your own goal
A goal or a useful problem will help you get over the steep learning curve that is inevitable in learning about new pieces of technology. Your goal does not have to be big: my first Internet of Things project was making a LED shine when the International Space Station was overhead.
2. Make your world a little better
To me “engineering” is really “problem-solving”. Find problems to solve. You may have to make something, program something, or do something. How can you make your own world a little better?
3. Learn how to fail safely
Learn how to fail safely: break projects into smaller pieces, and try each piece. If it doesn’t work, you can try again. It’s only at the end of a project that you should put all the “working” pieces together (and even then, they may not work nicely together!)
Dr Lucy Rogers will be joining our Digital Making at Home educators on our This is Engineering-themed live stream today at 5.30pm GMT.
This is your young people’s chance to be inspired by this amazing inventor! And we will take live questions via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Twitch, so make sure your young people are able to get Dr Lucy’s live answers to their own questions about digital making, creativity, and all things engineering!
Engineering at home, right now
To get inspired about engineering right now, your young people can follow along step by step with Electricity generation, our brand-new, free digital making project on the impact of non-renewable energy on our planet!
While coding this Scratch project, learners input real data about the type and amount of natural resources that countries across the world use to generate electricity, and they then compare the results using an animated data visualisation.
Engineering has always been important, but never more so than now, as we face global challenges and need more brilliant young minds to solve them. Tim Peake, ESA astronaut and one of our Members, knows this well, and is a big advocate of engineering, and of STEM more broadly.
Tim spoke about the European Astro Pi Challenge at today’s award ceremony
Thank you, Major Tim
Tim played a huge part in the first Astro Pi Challenge, and he has helped us spread the word about Astro Pi and the work of the Raspberry Pi Foundation ever since.
Earlier this year, Tim was awarded the 2019 Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Award for his work promoting engineering to the public, following a nomination by Raspberry Pi co-founder and Fellow of the Academy Pete Lomas. Pete says:
“As part of Tim Peake’s Principia mission, he personally spearheaded the largest education and outreach initiative ever undertaken by an ESA astronaut. Tim actively connects space exploration with the requirement for space engineering.
As a founder of Raspberry Pi, I was thrilled that Tim acted as a personal ambassador for the Astro Pi programme. This gives young people across Europe the opportunity to develop their computing skills by writing computer programs that run on the specially adapted Raspberry Pi computers onboard the ISS.” – Pete Lomas
Today, Tim received the Rooke Award in person, at a celebratory event held at the Science Museum in London.
Royal Academy of Engineering CEO Dr Hayaatun Sillem presents Tim with the 2019 Rooke Award for public engagement with engineering, in recognition of his nationwide promotion of engineering and space
Four hundred young people got to attend the event with him, including two winning Astro Pi teams. Congratulations to Tim, and congratulations to those Astro Pi winners who got to meet a real-life astronaut!
Astro Pi is going from strength to strength
Since Tim’s mission on the ISS, the Astro Pi Challenge has evolved, and in collaboration with ESA Education, we now offer it in the form of two missions for young people every year:
Mission Zero, which allows young people to write a short Python programme to display a message to the astronauts aboard the ISS. This mission can be completed in an afternoon, all eligible entries are guaranteed to run in space, and you can submit entries until 20 March 2020. More about Astro Pi: Mission Zero
Mission Space Lab, which challenges teams of young people to design and create code to run a scientific experiment aboard the ISS using the Astro Pis’ sensors. This mission is competitive and runs over eight months, and you need to send in your team’s experiment idea by 25 October 2019. More about Astro Pi: Mission Space Lab
If you’re thinking “I wish this sort of thing had been around when I was young…”
…then help the young people in your life participate! Mission Zero is really simple and requires no prior coding knowledge, neither from you, nor from the young people in your team. Or your team could take part in Mission Space Lab — you’ve still got 10 days to send us your team’s experiment idea! And then, who knows, maybe your team will get to meet Tim Peake one day… or even become astronauts themselves!
Byron Cook leads the AWS Automated Reasoning Group, which automates proof search in mathematical logic and builds tools that provide AWS customers with provable security. Byron has pushed boundaries in this field, delivered real-world applications in the cloud, and fostered a sense of community amongst its practitioners. In recognition of Byron’s contributions to cloud security and automated reasoning, the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering elected him as one of 7 new Fellows in computing this year.
I recently sat down with Byron to discuss his new Fellowship, the work that it celebrates, and how he and his team continue to use automated reasoning in new ways to provide higher security assurance for customers in the AWS cloud.
Congratulations, Byron! Can you tell us a little bit about the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the significance of being a Fellow?
Thank you. I feel very honored! The Royal Academy of Engineering is focused on engineering in the broad sense; for example, aeronautical, biomedical, materials, etc. I’m one of only 7 Fellows elected this year that specialize in computing or logic, making the announcement really unique.
As for what the Royal Academy of Engineering is: the UK has Royal Academies for key disciplines such as music, drama, etc. The Royal Academies focus financial support and recognition on these fields, and gives a location and common meeting place. The Royal Academy of Music, for example, is near Regent’s Park in West London. The Royal Academy of Engineering’s building is in Carlton Place, one of the most exclusive locations in central London near Pall Mall and St. James’ Park. I’ve been to a number of lectures and events in that space. For example, it’s where I spoke ten years ago when I was the recipient of the Roger Needham prize. Some examples of previously elected Fellows include Sir Frank Whittle, who invented the jet engine; radar pioneer Sir George MacFarlane, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the world-wide web.
Can you tell us a little bit about why you were selected for the award?
The letter I received from the Royal Academy says it better than I could say myself:
“Byron Cook is a world-renowned leader in the field of formal verification. For over 20 years Byron has worked to bring this field from academic hypothesis to mechanised industrial reality. Byron has made major research contributions, built influential tools, led teams that operationalised formal verification activities, and helped establish connections between others that have dramatically accelerated growth of the area. Byron’s tools have been applied to a wide array of topics, e.g. biological systems, computer operating systems, programming languages, and security. Byron’s Automated Reasoning Group at Amazon is leading the field to even greater success”.
Formal verification is the one term here that may be foreign to you, so perhaps I should explain. Formal verification is the use of mathematical logic to prove properties of systems. Euclid, for example, used formal verification in ~300 BC to prove that the Pythagorean theorem holds for all possible right-angled triangles. Today we are using formal verification to prove things about all possible configurations of a computer program might reach. When I founded Amazon’s Automated Reasoning Group, I named it that because my ambition was to automate all of the reasoning performed during formal verification.
Can you give us a bit of detail about some of the “research contributions and tools” mentioned in the text from Royal Academy of Engineering?
Probably my best-known work before joining Amazon was on the Terminator tool. Terminator was designed to reason at compile-time about what a given computer program would eventually do when running in production. For example, “Will the program eventually halt?” This is the famous “Halting problem,” proved undecidable in the 1930s. The Terminator tool piloted a new approach to the problem which is popular now, based on the idea of incrementally improving the best guess for a proof based on failed proof attempts. This was the first known approach capable of scaling termination proving to industrial problems. My colleagues and I used Terminator to find bugs in device drivers that could cause operating systems to become unresponsive. We found many bugs in device drivers that ran keyboards, mice, network devices, and video cards. The Terminator tool was also the basis of BioModelAnaylzer. It turns out that there’s a connection between diseases like Leukemia and the Halting problem: Leukemia is a termination bug in the genetic-regulatory pathways in your blood. You can think of it in the same way you think of a device driver that’s stuck in an infinite loop, causing your computer to freeze. My tools helped answer fundamental questions that no tool could solve before. Several pharmaceutical companies use BioModelAnaylzer today to understand disease and find new treatment options. And these days, there is an annual international competition with many termination provers that are much better than the Terminator. I think that this is what Royal Academy is talking about when they say I moved the area from “academic hypothesis to mechanized industrial reality.”
I have also worked on problems related to the question of P=NP, the most famous open problem in computing theory. From 2000-2006, I built tools that made NP feel equal to P in certain limited circumstances to try and understand the problem better. Then I focused on circumstances that aligned with important industrial problems, like proving the absence of bugs in microprocessors, flight control software, telecommunications systems, and railway control systems. These days the tools in this space are incredibly powerful. You should check out the software tools CVC4 or Z3.
And, of course, there’s my work with the Automated Reasoning Group, where I’ve built a team of domain experts that develop and apply formal verification tools to a wide variety of problems, helping make the cloud more secure. We have built tools that automatically reason about the semantics of policies, networks, cryptography, virtualization, etc. We reason about the implementation of Amazon Web Services (AWS) itself, and we’ve built tools that help customers prove the correctness of their AWS-based implementations.
Could you go into a bit more detail about how this work connects to Amazon and its customers?
AWS provides cloud services globally. Cloud is shorthand for on-demand access to IT resources such as compute, storage, and analytics via the Internet with pay-as-you-go pricing. AWS has a wide variety of customers, ranging from individuals to the largest enterprises, and practically all industries. My group develops mathematical proof tools that help make AWS more secure, and helps AWS customers understand how to build in the cloud more securely.
I first became an AWS customer myself when building BioModelAnaylzer. AWS allowed us working on this project to solve major scientific challenges (see this Nature Scientific Report for an example) using very large datacenters, but without having to buy the machines, maintain the machines, maintain the rooms that the machines would sit in, the A/C system that would keep them cool, etc. I was also able to easily provide our customers with access to the tool via the cloud, because it’s all over the internet. I just pointed people to the end-point on the internet and, presto, they were using the tool. About 5 years before developing BioModelAnalyzer, I was developing proof tools for device drivers and I gave a demo of the tool to my executive leadership. At the end of the demo, I was asked if 5,000 machines would help us do more proofs. Computationally, the answer was an obvious “yes,” but then I thought a minute about the amount of overhead required to manage a fleet of 5,000 machines and reluctantly replied “No, but thank you very much for the offer!” With AWS, it’s not even a question. Anyone with an Amazon account can provision 5,000 machines for practically nothing. In less than 5 minutes, you can be up and running and computing with thousands of machines.
What I love about working at AWS is that I can focus a very small team on proving the correctness of some aspect of AWS (for example, the cryptography) and, because of the size and importance of the customer base, we make much of the world meaningfully more secure. Just to name a few examples: s2n (the Amazon TLS implementation); the AWS Key Management Service (KMS), which allows customers to securely store crypto keys; and networking extensions to the IoT operating system Amazon FreeRTOS, which customers use to link cloud to IoT devices, such as robots in factories. We also focus on delivering service features that help customers prove the correctness of their AWS-based implementations. One example is Tiros, which powers a network reachability feature in Amazon Inspector. Another example is Zelkova, which powers features in services such as Amazon S3, AWS Config, and AWS IoT Device Defender.
When I think of mathematical logic I think of obscure theory and messy blackboards, not practical application. But it sounds like you’ve managed to balance the tension between theory and practical industrial problems?
I think that this is a common theme that great scientists don’t often talk about. Alan Turing, for example, did his best work during the war. John Snow, who made fundamental contributions to our understanding of germs and epidemics, did his greatest work while trying to figure out why people were dying in the streets of London. Christopher Stratchey, one of the founders of our field, wrote:
“It has long been my personal view that the separation of practical and theoretical work is artificial and injurious. Much of the practical work done in computing, both in software and in hardware design, is unsound and clumsy because the people who do it have not any clear understanding of the fundamental design principles in their work. Most of the abstract mathematical and theoretical work is sterile because it has no point of contact with real computing.”
Throughout my career, I’ve been at the intersection of practical and theoretical. In the early days, this was driven by necessity: I had two children during my PhD and, frankly, I needed the money. But I soon realized that my deep connection to real engineering problems was an advantage and not a disadvantage, and I’ve tried through the rest of my career to stay in that hot spot of commercially applicable problems while tackling abstract mathematical topics.
What’s next for you? For the Automated Reasoning Group? For your scientific field?
The Royal Academy of Engineering kindly said that I’ve brought “this field from academic hypothesis to mechanized industrial reality.” That’s perhaps true, but we are very far from done: it’s not yet an industrial standard. The full power of automated reasoning is not yet available to everyone because today’s tools are either difficult to use or weak. The engineering challenge is to make them both powerful and easy to use. With that I believe that they’ll become a key part of every software engineer’s daily routine. What excites me is that I believe that Amazon has a lot to teach me about how to operationalize the impossible. That’s what Amazon has done over and over again. That’s why I’m at Amazon today. I want to see these proof techniques operating automatically at Amazon scale.
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