The work of alumni contributes to Edinburgh’s outstanding reputation in science, technology, engineering and medicine.

Here is a typically eclectic range of highlights. If you’d like to contribute to Science Digest, email your suggestions to editor.edit@ed.ac.uk.

PhD student Gytis Dudas.
PhD student Gytis Dudas.

Uncovering Ebola's
secrets

Edinburgh researchers are at the forefront of international efforts to understand the Ebola virus that is causing devastation in West Africa.

Professor Andrew Rambaut (BSc Zoology 1993) and PhD student Gytis Dudas, photographed, (BSc Biological Sciences 2011), have helped analyse genome sequences of viruses from the current outbreak. Working with colleagues in the US, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the phylogeneticists helped analyse 99 Ebola genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone.

They discovered that the Ebola virus in West Africa arrived there from Central Africa some time in the past decade and made a single species jump from an animal – probably a bat – to a human.

It was this species jump in Guinea that started the current spread from person to person, crossing into Sierra Leone in May 2014.

The results were published in the journal Science, and offer a vital insight into a disease about which very little is understood.

Dealing with
Data Deluge

Google’s Research Director, Professor Fernando Pereira (PhD Artificial Intelligence 1982), helped launch the Centre for Doctoral Training in Data Science at the University’s School of Informatics in November.

Professor Pereira gave a talk on the challenges of computational semantics at the launch event.

The Centre for Doctoral Training is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the University and 34 external partners, including Apple, Google and Microsoft. It aims to help create a new generation of data scientists, and includes new studentships. The first 11 students joined the Centre in September.

Scientists' Names
on the Map

The streets of the King’s Buildings campus have been given names honouring pioneering Edinburgh alumni and teachers.

Twelve scientists, including inventor of the vacuum flask Sir James Dewar and lighthouse designer Robert Stevenson, have had roads named in their honour. Charlotte Auerbach, who helped advance the understanding of genetics, is among those celebrated, as is Marion Ross, a pioneer in X-rays and superconductivity.

Giving names to King’s Buildings roads – they previously had none – is intended to make it easier for new students and staff to get to know the area.

60 Seconds
Tom Griffiths

Born: 1982; grew up in Wales

Education: MSc Informatics 2004

Current Home: New York City

Current Role: Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of FanDuel, the global leader in daily fantasy sports.

Favourite Read: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

Favourite Listening: Live jazz in a New York jazz bar.

Favourite Viewing: Stand-up comedy: Louis CK, Andy Zaltzman, anything at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade.

What most inspires you: The founding stories of the great tech companies (Google, Apple, Facebook) and the widespread impact these companies have on millions of people around the world.

Greatest influence: My family, my co-founders, the idealised image of the capitalist philanthropist (Carnegie, Gates, Benioff).

Tom Griffiths is the Chief Product Officer and co-founder of FanDuel, the world’s biggest daily fantasy sports service. He oversees all products and operations across mobile and desktop platforms, from the company’s headquarters in New York City. Mr Griffiths has been pivotal in FanDuel’s growth from a tiny start-up in 2009 to a sports entertainment enterprise that will generate more than $50 million in revenue in 2014. He co-founded the company with support from Launch.Ed, the University’s award-winning service for student and graduate entrepreneurs. In August 2014 the company raised $70 million in a funding round led by Shamrock Capital, NBC Sports Ventures and KKR. FanDuel has 106 staff in Edinburgh and New York.

“We’re in a very exciting stage of FanDuel’s growth. However, to get here has taken years of long hours, tough decisions, and determination from everyone on the team.

This is the third startup I have helped to build and one lesson that is constantly repeated is the value of structured trial and error. We constantly test new ideas and throw away more than we use. These trial and error cycles can be tough, so a support structure like Launch.ed can really help.”

Tom Griffiths
MSC Informatics 2004

Discuss this article