Computational Modelling Group

Science and Engineering of Natural Systems group

Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Web page

The Science and Engineering of Natural Systems (SENSe) group exploits the interface between technology and biology. It undertakes fundamental research into the science and engineering of computational methods that can further our understanding of biological and other natural systems, and also into the development and application of novel computational systems and techniques that are inspired by nature.

Head of group

Seth Bullock

Professor, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Selected members with computational interest

Richard Watson

Senior Lecturer, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Rob Mills

Research Fellow, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Jason Noble

Research Fellow, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Jordi Arranz

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Stuart Bartlett

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Adam Davies

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Tom Hebbron

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Robert Spanton

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Camillia Zedan

Postgraduate Research Student, Electronics and Computer Science (FPAS)

Elisabeth zu-Erbach-Schoenberg

Postgraduate Research Student, Management (FBL)

Selected computational projects

A novel method for monitoring air pollution from satellites at very high resolution

Joanna Nield, Jason Noble, Edward Milton (Investigators), Robin Wilson

Developing methods to monitor the clarity of the atmosphere from satellites at 100,000 times the resolution of previous methods. This can then be used to monitor air pollution, correct satellite images and provide data for climate studies. Simulation is used to model the effects of atmospheric pollution on light passing through the atmosphere, and to test the method under 'synthetic atmospheres'.

A spatially-explicit agent-based model of jaguar population dynamics

Jason Noble, Patrick Doncaster (Investigators), Angela Watkins

A single species spatially-explicit agent-based model has been developed that illustrates the role of simulation modelling, integrated with an adapted least-cost modelling approach and real-world geographical data, in exploring jaguar population dynamics.

Adding social ties to the Schelling model

Seth Bullock, Sally Brailsford (Investigators), Elisabeth zu-Erbach-Schoenberg

The Schelling model is an abstract model for segregation in
a spatially arranged population. We extended the traditional model by the addition of a dynamic social network. The social network influences the spatial dynamics of agents moving on the grid by changing the agents’ evaluation of their neighbourhood. In turn, the spatial arrangement influences the change of the social network.

Agent-based simulations of jaguar movements through conservation corridors

Jason Noble, Patrick Doncaster (Investigators), Angela Watkins

We present an agent-based model of jaguars (Panthera onca),
scaled for fragmented habitat in Belize where proposals already exist for creating a jaguar corridor. We use a least cost approach to simulate movement paths through alternative possible landscapes.

Amorphous Computation, Random Graphs and Complex Biological Networks

Seth Bullock (Investigator)

This interdisciplinary research collaboration arose within the Simple Models of Complex Networks research cluster funded by the EPSRC through the Novel Computation Initiative. Here, leading groups from the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield, Nottingham, Southampton, Royal Holloway and King’s College and industrial partners BT are brought together for the first time to develop novel amorphous computation methods based on the theory of random graphs.

An Investigation into the Cascade Effect of Mergers on the Global Financial Markets

Seth Bullock, Antonella Ianni (Investigators), Camillia Zedan

An investigation into the external effects that horizontal mergers have on the interconnected global markets.

Associative learning in ecosystems: Network level adaptation as an emergent propery of local selection

Richard Watson, James Dyke (Investigators), Daniel Power

Ecosystems may exhibit collective adaptive properties that arise from natural selection operating on their component species. These properties include the ability of the ecosystem to return to specific configurations of species, in a manner highly analogous to mechanisms of associative learning in neural networks.

Bayesian Agents as Models for the Disclosure Behaviour of Pregnant Drinkers

Seth Bullock, Jakub Bijak (Investigators), Jonathan Gray

Examining the feasibility of signalling games, played by Bayesian decision theoretic agents as a model for the disclosure of drinking behaviour by pregnant women to their midwives.

Bioclimatic Architecture

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Nicholas Hill

This was a review report on bioclimatic architecture and how such architecture may be designed by agent-based models inspired by the building behaviour of insects.

Care Life Cycle

Seth Bullock, Sally Brailsford, Jason Noble, Jakub Bijak (Investigators), Elisabeth zu-Erbach-Schoenberg, Jason Hilton, Jonathan Gray

This research programme brings together teams of researchers from social sciences, management science and complexity science to develop a suite of models representing the socio-economic and demographic processes and organisations implicated in the UK’s health and social care provision. Integral to the project is working with our partners in the public sector and communicating the results of these models to policymakers allowing them to effectively plan for the future.

Cellular Automata Modelling of Membrane Formation and Protocell Evolution

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Stuart Bartlett

We simulated the meso-level behaviour of lipid-like particles in a range of chemical and physical environments. Self-organised protocellular structures can be shown to emerge spontaneously in systems with random, homogeneous initial conditions. Introducing an additional 'toxic' particle species and an associated set of synthesis reactions produced a new set of ecological behaviours compared to the original model of Ono and Ikegami.

Complex Systems Simulations Centre for Doctoral Training

Jonathan Essex, Seth Bullock, Hans Fangohr (Investigators)

The centre for doctoral training brings together students from a variety of backgrounds, ranging from mathematics, physics and chemistry to oceanography, geography, biology, computer science, and engineering. Students carry out a four-year programme combining taught courses with a PhD project.

Controlling Ant-Based Construction

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Lenka Pitonakova

This paper investigates dynamics of ant nest building and shows that algorithms capable of generating ant-like structures can also be used to create nests, shapes of which are imposed from outside of the system.

Differences between sexual genetic algorithms and a compositional cooperative co-evolutionary algorithm

Richard Watson (Investigator), Daniel Power

Different algorithms are representative of different genetic processes. This work explores how algorithms representing sexual recombination can solve certain problems that hill climbers cannot.

Do the adaptive dynamics of host-parasite systems catalyse or constrain sympatric speciation?

Richard Watson (Investigator), Daniel Power

Coevolutionary dynamics affect both parties evolutionary trajectories. When might these affect speciation? This project uses a simulation model to explore the issue.

Excitable Boys: An Exploration of the Role of Social Groups in the Self-radicalisation Process Using Agent-based Modelling.

Jason Noble (Investigator), Lewys Brace

This work built upon the seminal work of Sageman (2008), and his hypothesis that the self-radicalisation phenomenon that we are currently witnessing across Europe and the United States stems from self-organising ‘bunches of guys’. More specifically, there was a focus on how individuals can influence one another through social links; and how this can lead to behaviour, similar to deindividuation, arising through their interactions. Complexity theory and agent-based modelling were used in order to explore the interactions that are believed to lie at the heart of this psycho-social phenomenon, and justification is given for this approach. The model presented demonstrated that social bonds can lead to a greater number of individuals ‘rebelling’ against the status quo.

Fracturing of small social networks

Seth Bullock, Sally Brailsford (Investigators), Elisabeth zu-Erbach-Schoenberg

A connected social network is a very important factor for the success of groups and organisations. We investigate which factors make a group more resistant to the effects of disagreements which commonly happen in small social networks.

Impact of reciprocal feedbacks between evolution and ecology

Richard Watson, Patrick Doncaster, James Dyke (Investigators), Daniel Power

How do organism's activities affect their evolutionary trajectories? This project uses simulation techniques to evaluate the effects of this feedback.

Integrating least-cost models with agent-based simulations: example hedgehog responses to fragmented landscapes

Jason Noble, Patrick Doncaster (Investigators), Angela Watkins

This study presents a novel analysis of an agent-based model of hedgehog movements integrated with a least-cost model of hedgehog dispersal and validated in landscapes with a varying degree of habitat fragmentation. A comparison of the fitness of individual agents reveals that incorporating a simple rule into
individual agents, to better mimic movement choices by real hedgehogs, dramatically affects the relationship between individual fitness and fragmentation.

Is the decline in East African lesser flamingo population a natural concequence of soda ake dynamics?

Seth Bullock

An interdisciplinary approach using palaeoenvironmental data analysis and a modelling is being used investigate the dramatic fluctuations in conditions in the East African Rift Valley soda lakes, and how these changes may be impacting the lesser flamingo population.

Lagrangian modelling of ecosystem dynamics at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study station

Tom Anderson, Seth Bullock (Investigators), Melissa Saeland

Focus in the marine ecosystem modelling community is starting to shift towards the use of Lagrangian, agent-based models as these are believed to produce more realistic results. The basic assumptions behind these models have not been thoroughly tested, and this project aims to undertake a detailed study of Lagrangian marine ecosystem models, before creating one to investigate the dynamics at the Bermuda Atlantic Time-series Study station (BATS).

Measuring organisation with statistical complexity

Seth Bullock (Investigator), David Arden

What is a organisation and how can we measure it? In particular, can we automate the process of picking out the emergence of pattern and structure in a noisy system over time?

Origins of Evolvability

Richard Watson, Markus Brede (Investigators), William Hurndall

This project examined the putative evolvability of a Lipid World model of fissioning micelles. It was demonstrated that the model lacked evlovability due to poor heritability. Explicit structure for micelles was introduced along with a spatially localised form of catalysis which increased the strength of selection as coupling between potential chemical units of heredity were reduced.

Perceived Attractiveness as a Factor Affecting Condomless Sex

Anastasia Eleftheriou, Seth Bullock

The objectives of this project are to better understand the relationship between perceived attractiveness and condom use intentions and to gain insight into the relationship between perceived attractiveness and potential sexual risk behaviours.

Quantifying Collective Construction

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Nicholas Hill

This was an initial investigation into how best to develop quantifying and discriminating measures of both the processes and results of collective construction.

Replication of Sayama Group Decision Model

Jason Noble (Investigator), Jonathan Gray

Replication of a model of group decision making from Sayama et al. (2011), with a revised methodology that alters a conclusion from the original paper.

Selection pressure for language and theory-of-mind in monkeys

Jason Noble (Investigator)

To what extent are the alarm calls of putty-nosed monkeys likely to be a good model for human language evolution? Simulation is used to classify evolutionary trajectories as either plausible or implausible, and to put lower bounds on the cognitive complexity required to perform particular behaviours.

Separation of timescales in models of complex networks

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Elisabeth zu-Erbach-Schoenberg, Connor McCabe

In many real-world systems several processes act on the system state. The way these processes interact can have implications for the resulting system state. We investigate how separation of the timescales of two processes influences the system's equilibrium state.

Simulating Human Expansion in the Early Pleistocene

Seth Bullock, Fraser Sturt (Investigators), Iza Romanowska

Using Agent-based modelling to investigate the first human dispersal almost 2 million years ago.

Simulating Sleeping Sickness: a two-host agent-based model

Jason Noble, Peter Atkinson (Investigators), Simon Alderton

Sleeping sickness is a vector-borne, parastic disease which affects millions of people across 36 sub-Saharan African countries. Using agent-based models, we aim to gain a greater understanding of the interactions between the tsetse fly vector and both animal and human hosts.

Building an accurate representation will allow the testing of local interventation scenarios including the closing of watering holes, and the selective spraying of cattle with insecticides.

Simulation modelling of habitat permeability for mammalian wildlife

Patrick Doncaster, Jason Noble (Investigators), Angela Watkins

Using and integrating least-cost models and agent-based simulations to explore the way in which mammals interact with, and hence move, through fragmented landscapes.

Spatial Mobility in the Formation of Agent-Based Economic Networks

Antonella Ianni, Seth Bullock (Investigators), Camillia Zedan

An investigation into the effect of spatial mobility on endogenous economic network formation.

Spatial variability of the atmosphere in southern England

Joanna Nield, Jason Noble, Edward Milton (Investigators), Robin Wilson

No-one really knows how variable key atmospheric parameters such as Aerosol Optical Thickness and Water Vapour content are over relatively small areas. This study aims to find out!

Spatially Embedded Complex Systems Engineering

Seth Bullock (Investigator)

SECSE brought together an interdisciplinary team of scientists working on an ambitious three-and-a-half year project titled. The research cluster spanned neuroscience, artificial intelligence, geography, and complex systems in an attempt to understand the role of spatial organization and spatial processes in complex networks within the domains of neural control, geo-information systems and distributed IT systems such as those implicated in air-traffic control.

TEDx: Closing the Loop: Entropy Accounting for a Sustainable World

Stuart Bartlett (Investigator)

This is a TEDx talk that I gave on some ideas I've had about the large-scale thermodynamic organisation of life on Earth. While these ideas probably aren't new, I believe they can teach us something about the way in which we think about energy and the 'consumption' of goods and energy.

Testing an interaction game on relationships.

Seth Bullock (Investigator), Anastasia Eleftheriou

The aim of this project is to examine how attractiveness is related to hypothetical risky sexual behaviour. The term `risky sexual behaviour' refers to having multiple sexual partners without the use of a condom. Data will be collected using questionnaires in order to investigate the influence of attractiveness on intentions towards engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse. A primary research question is whether perceived attractiveness of a potential partner affects the reported likelihood of having sex and/or using a condom.

The Endogenous Formation of Economic Networks

Antonella Ianni, Seth Bullock (Investigators), Camillia Zedan

An investigation into endogenous network formation using a simple agent-based approach.

The Maximum Entropy Production Principle and Natural Convection

Seth Bullock, James Dyke (Investigators), Stuart Bartlett

In this project I wanted to perform some tests of the so-called Maximum Entropy Production Principle (MEPP) in the context of buoyancy-driven convection in a system with negative feedback boundary conditions.

The Origins of Communication Revisited

Jason Noble (Investigator), Jordi Arranz

Quinn (2001) sought to demonstrate that communication be- tween simulated agents could be evolved without pre-defined communication channels. Quinn’s work was exciting because it showed the potential for ALife models to look at the real origin of communication; however, the work has never been replicated. In order to test the generality of Quinn’s result we use a similar task but a completely different agent architecture. We find that qualitatively similar behaviours emerge, but it is not clear whether they are genuinely communicative. We extend Quinn’s work by adding perceptual noise and internal state to the agents in order to promote ritualization of the nascent signal. Results were inconclusive; philosophical implications are discussed.

The Role of Information in Price Discovery

Antonella Ianni, Seth Bullock (Investigators), Camillia Zedan

The recent economic crisis has highlighted a continued vulnerability and lack of understanding in the financial markets. In order to overcome this, many believe that current market models must be improved. Recently, a trend towards agent-based modelling has emerged. Viewing the economy as a complex system is beginning to be seen as key to explaining certain market characteristics that were originally considered anomalies.

One of the fundamental assumptions in economics is that of information efficiency: that the price of a stock reflects its worth, that all possible information about a security is publicly known, and that any changes to price take place instantaneously. In reality, however, this is not the case.

This project considers the use of agents in modelling economic systems and demonstrates the effect of information levels on price discovery using a simple market simulation.

The Social-cognitive Niche: An Exploration of the Co-evolutionary Relationship between Human Mind and language, with a Particular Focus of the Self-organisational properties of the Emergence of Symbolic Representation.

Jason Noble, Glyn Hicks (Investigators), Lewys Brace

This work explored the relationship between the origin and subsequent evolution of the human mind and language; a relationship that is believed to be symbiotic in nature. This piece aimed to achieve two objectives. Firstly, it set out a theoretical framework, using the principles of complexity theory and self-organisation, which attempts to explain this relationship from a holistic perspective.

Secondly, it presented an agent-based model of a vervet monkey social group, which sought to investigate the variables that were perceived to underpin the emergence of symbolic representation within a population of language users.

The belief here was that, by understanding the influence of these variables, one would be able to better understand the genesis of the aforementioned relationship.

Towards design patterns for robot swarms

Richard Crowder, Seth Bullock (Investigators), Lenka Pitonakova

Swarm robotics is an inter-disciplinary field that seeks to design the behaviour of robots that can cooperate effectively on tasks like search and retrieval, reconnaissance, construction, etc. In this project, we are aiming towards a theoretical understanding of swarm intelligence and the development of design patterns for effective robot swarms.

Understanding the Role of Recruitment in Robot Foraging

Seth Bullock, Richard Crowder (Investigators), Lenka Pitonakova

It is shown that recruitment among foraging robots is useful when resources are hard to find, but that the extra cost associated with such robots is not returned when there are many locations to gather from or simply when the relative gain from using communication is low.

Validation of GPS-derived water vapour estimates

Joanna Nield, Jason Noble, Edward Milton (Investigators), Robin Wilson

Measurements from GPS base stations can be processed to provide estimates of the water vapour content in the atmosphere. These are lots of these base stations across the world and they take measurements very frequently, making them perfect data sources for scientific use. However, we need to understand their accuracy - and this project aims to do this.

You Can Chop Off My Head If You'll Let Me Return the Blow: Being a Game Theory Primer for the Non-technical Audience.

Jason Noble (Investigator), Lewys Brace

Game theory is a subject area that has, since it’s conception, become influential in a number of fields, ranging from its ‘stomping grounds’ in economics, through to evolutionary biology.
The aim of this paper was to provide the reader with a theoretical understanding of the basic concepts that one often encounters within the wider scientific literature, in a non-technical manner. To this end, this paper discussed its subject matter with the aid of examples that most people would be familiar with, and which do not require any specialist knowledge to interpret. This was deemed to be a useful way in which to develop an understanding of these concepts and their significance.