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Intelligent Systems - Research



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." 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.

Entry requirements

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.

Additional information for International applicants may be found

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.

Careers or further progression

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.

Further enquiries

Contact supervisor
Professor Damien Coyle
+44 28 7167 5170


Application date


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 at the link below.

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.

Enrolment and start dates

Year of entry: 2020/21

Postgraduate Information Session 26 March 2020
Register at:

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