Our vision is to develop a bio-inspired computational basis for Artificial Intelligence to power future cognitive technologies.


Our mission is to understand how the brain works at multiple levels, from cells to cognition and apply that understanding to create realistic models and construct technologies that solve the complex issues that face people and society. To accomplish our mission we use a variety of research strategies that include big data and machine learning, brain imaging and neural interfacing, human-computer interaction and robotics.

Our cross-disciplinary research focuses on six interrelated research themes:

Computational Neuroscience and Neuromorphic Engineering

  • To model cellular and network level brain function to understand intelligence and pathology and create biologically inspired algorithms and hardware.

Cognitive Neuroscience and Neurotechnology

  • To develop intelligent signal/image processing to probe and understand brain dynamics, structure and function and produce technologies that maintain, enhance, augment and restore physical and cognitive function.

Cognitive Robotics

  • To create robotic ecologies that have human-like sensing capability for seamless interaction through complex object recognition, vision and tactile sensing, task allocation, manipulation and more.

Intelligent Data Analytics

  • To achieve fundamental advances in AI and scalable computing to solve the most challenging data analytics problems faced by people, industry, society and government.

Spatial Computing and Future Human-Computer Interaction

  • To study people’s interaction with text, voice, gesture, Augmented Reality/Virtual reality (AR/VR), and develop new contexts for computing through wearables and technology everywhere.

Cyber Security and Web technologies

  • To develop secure and connected technologies that operate intelligently to deliver context aware knowledge and actions in real-time.

We invite applications for self-funded PhD research projects in any of these research themes.


The Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) is linked with the School of Computing, Engineering and Intelligent Systems (SCEIS) on the Magee campus and draws together expertise from computing and engineering professions and interdisciplinary research teams with a focus on intelligent systems across a range of application areas to create an exciting environment for undergraduate and postgraduates students to excel in STEM subjects, Artificial Intelligence and Future and Emerging Technologies R&D

The ISRC is the centre of operations for the Cognitive Analytics Research Laboratory (CARL), an Ulster University-wide initiative focused on exploiting the centre’s 20-year track record of research excellence into neuro-inspired cognitive analytics, machine learning and computational intelligence, to establish Northern Ireland as a world leading location for data science and analytics, to aid local and global industry exploit data which is now abundant, ubiquitous and increasingly more valuable, across diverse domains such as health, financial technology, media, civic and government, energy and advanced manufacturing.

At present, the School has 33 academic members of staff, over 40 PhD researchers and 20 Research Assistants/Fellows.

In the UK research excellence framework (REF) 2014 90% of Ulster University’s computer science research environment was rated world leading or internationally excellent, and its REF submission in Computer Science was the 14th largest nationally, ranking 21st and 16th out of 89 universities for research power and total number of research staff with 3* (internationally excellent) and 4* (world-leading) research outputs, respectively.

The ISRC has three active spinout companies and catalyzes research that has impact locally and globally. In 2018 NeuroCONCISE Ltd, an AI-enabled, wearable neurotechnology spinout-company from the Intelligent Systems Research Centre was winner in the best start-up category at the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Innovation awards. NeuroCONCISE Ltd also won the IET and E&T Innovation of the Year Award.   “The judges felt that this project was part of something bigger, something genuinely important. It pulls on many interesting disciplines such as AI, electronics, software and big data, and interweaves them in a solution that promises real developments in the field.” http://email.ietinfo.org/q/17ECzQg7RgSQMl7KDE9ll1/wv. NeuroCONCISE Ltd was built on award winning AI research including the IEEE Computational Intelligence Society Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award 2008 and International Neural Network Society Young Investigator of the Year award 2011.


Major research facilities

The ISRC is housed in a 2000m2 building with specialist facilities to enable world-class research.

Northern Ireland Functional Brain Mapping Facility (NIFBM)

The ISRC houses Ireland’s only Magnetoencephalography (MEG) facility, one of 10 such facilities in the UK, one out of only 170 active MEG labs worldwide. This facility is a joint investment of £5.3M from Invest Northern Ireland (INI) and Ulster University. NIFBM is equipped with the latest whole-head 306 channel Elekta Neuromag MEG TRIUX system. MEG is a modern non-invasive neurophysiological technique for measuring magnetic fields generated by neuronal activities inside the brain. MEG is acquired by an array of superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs) placed close to the scalp which are capable of measuring magnetic fields on the femtotesla (fT) scale.  Hence the MEG is located in a magnetic shielded room (MSR) to minimise noise from the surrounding environment.

Brain-computer interface (BCI) lab

The BCI lab is a dedicated facility for BCI research and includes an EMF shielded and acoustic noise insulated EEG room with a 64 channel EEG system, along with multiple mobile EEG recording devices.

Cognitive Robotics Laboratory

The ISRC has a large robotics laboratory that is equipped with a wide range of advanced robotics platforms, such as the PR2 robot, Shadow Dexterous Hand, 2 SUMMIT XL robots, 4 SCITOS robots, Schunk manipulator arms, and 10 Pioneer P3-DX mobile robots. The laboratory also includes various vision systems, permitting the capture of 2D and 3D visual data and a Vicon tracking system for sub-millimetre object tracking.

Spatial Computing and Neurotechnology Innovation Hub (SCAN i-hub) (funding secured and in development)

The SCAN i-hub will house multiple technologies for electrophysiological monitoring  and technologies that enable spatial computing including text, voice, gesture, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR).  Simulation technologies will enable exploration of physiological processes in ambulatory and virtual scenarios including walking, driving, and flying.

High performance computing

The ISRC provides staff and PhD researchers with high performance computing (HPC) clusters for research.

Cluster 1

  • 32 x Dell R620s each comprising of 2 x 8 core CPUs and 64GB RAM.
  • Total of 512 Cores & 2.05 TB RAM
  • 40Gb state of the art High Speed/low latency Ethernet Network
  • Windows  Server 2010 & 2012 HPC Pack
  • MATLAB 2017a
  • Python 3.6.5

Cluster 2

  • 5 x Dell PowerEdge R640 each comprising of 2 x 16 core CPUs and 64GB RAM.
  • 1 x NVIDIA P100
  • Total of 160 Cores & 320GB RAM
  • Omni-Path high-performance communication architecture
  • Centos7.5
  • MATLAB 2018b
  • Python 3.4.9

Embedded FPGA Hardware and Design Resources

  • FPGA cluster configured with 60 x Altera DE4 Development boards (Stratix® IV GX EP4SGX230 device)
  • Altera and Xilinx Design Suites for embedded and logic design
  • Agilent 256-channel logic analyser
  • Agilent mixed signal scope (16-bit/2-channel)

Entry requirements

Applicants should hold, or expect to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class Honours Degree in a subject relevant to the proposed area of study. We may also consider applications from those who hold equivalent qualifications, for example, a Lower Second Class Honours Degree plus a Master’s Degree with Distinction.

In exceptional circumstances, the University may consider a portfolio of evidence from applicants who have appropriate professional experience which is equivalent to the learning outcomes of an Honours degree in lieu of academic qualifications.

English language requirements

In order to be admitted to research study at Ulster, you will need to provide evidence of your English language proficiency as part of your application.

Full details on the requirements for both home and overseas applicants can be found here.

Careers and opportunities

PhD graduates are recognised by employers to hold valuable transferrable skills, as the nature of the degree trains candidates in creativity, critical inquiry, problem solving, negotiation skills, professionalism and confidence.

The most recent Ulster survey of PhD graduates found that 92% had secured employment within the first year since graduation (HESA Destination of Leavers Survey 2015), and while two thirds end up in the Higher Education or Research sectors, the range of skills acquired equips the remainder for employment in a wide range of contexts.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees:

Details of tuition fees can be found under the fees schedule for the academic year of entry.

To work out for which fees you would be eligible and to find out more information about potential sources of funding, please view the Fees and Funding pages on the Doctoral College website.


We are delighted that you are considering Ulster University for your research studies.  Full details on the application process and further guidance on how to apply, and what you will need to upload as part of your application, is available here.

Once you have identified supervisors, discussed a research proposal and are ready to make an application, please apply using the online application system.

Ulster University welcomes applications from all sections of the community and from persons with disabilities. It is University policy to assess all applications using academic criteria and on the basis of equality of opportunity and you should be assured that reasonable adjustments will be made should you require them.


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As Senior Engineering Manager of Analytics at Seagate Technology I utilise the learning from my PhD ever day

Adrian Johnston - PhD in Informatics

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I started my PhD at Ulster University after I received the master degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. My research interests are feature extraction, face verification and pattern recognition.The proudest moments of my PhD when my papers were accepted by journals and I received my PhD certificate. It is a long journey to pursue a PhD, I couldn't have got through this without the constant support, help and encouragement from my supervisors and friends. Many thanks all of them.

Huan Wan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics

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I received the bachelor’s of engineering degree in computer science and technology from Shangrao Normal University, Jiangxi, China, in 2013; and the master’s degree in computer application and technology from the School of Mathematics and Computer Science, Fujian Normal University, China. When I was pursuing a PhD degree at Ulster University, I continued my research on face recognition and image representation.This long journey has only been possible due to the constant support and encouragement of my first supervisor. I also like to thank my second supervisor for his patience, support and guidance during my research studies. My favourite memory was the days of exercising, gathering and playing with my friends here. If I could speak to myself at the start of my PhD, the best piece of advice I would give myself would be "submit more papers to Journals instead of conferences".

Xin Wei - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics

Profile picture of Niloofer Shanavas

After master’s degree, I joined the Artificial Intelligence Research Group in the School of Computing at Ulster University to pursue my PhD. I would like to thank my supervisors for their guidance, invaluable advice, encouragement and support throughout my PhD.My proudest moments were when my research papers were accepted in prestigious conferences and journals. I feel accomplished about the six first-author publications from my doctoral research. Also, I have had the honour of receiving the Best Student Paper Award at the 2018 International FLINS Conference.I love travelling; my favourite memories were travelling to present my research in addition to getting the opportunity to meet leading researchers from different parts of the world. And I couldn't have achieved this without the support of my friends and family.

Niloofer Shanavas - PhD in Computer Sciences and Informatics

Profile picture of Jyotsna Talreja Wassan

In the whole PhD ordeal, my supervisory team played a tremendous role:- they are three in a million. They are perfect supervisors who perfectly know which milestones or pathways to be taken during research initiatives, and they understand the roles of virtually all stages in the journey of PhD. They showcased superior abilities in managing and motivating me evoking high standards; demonstrating a commitment to excellence. Jane and Haiying guided me as their daughter and Fiona turned out to be the best of friends.I heard from “Eleanor Roosevelt” that “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The dream with which I grew up to become a Doctor one day, has finally come true. In the journey of PhD, I embraced that a PhD is not just the highest degree in Education but rather it is a life experience where perseverance is the key. I can never forget words from my external examiner Prof Yike Guo, from Imperial College London. His words

Jyotsna Talreja Wassan - PhD in Computer Science and Informatics