James Stovold

been ill for a few days -- apologies for being absent from answering questions etc., will get on it today!

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing in science has to be blowing stuff up! You just can’t beat a good explosion to put a smile on your face. Unfortunately, I don’t get to do this in my line of work very much (as robots can be quite expensive, so I’m not allowed to blow them up!).



I started off at The Beacon School in south London for my GCSEs, then I moved down to Bexhill on the south coast (close to where the 1066 Battle of Hastings took place!) for my A-levels. After this I moved up North to the University of York, where I have been for about six years now.


I have a degree in Computer Science from the University of York, and am now working with brains and robots for my PhD at York (which means that I get to be called `Doctor’!!)

Work History:

I’ve had a bunch of different jobs — from a delivering newspapers to working in a bank in the centre of London. I also spent some time working with a defence company on thermal cameras (the cameras that pick up heat).

Current Job:

I currently work in the University as a teaching assistant and as a welfare tutor (somebody who other students can speak to if they have any problems, or if they are just feeling a bit down and want a cup of tea and a biscuit).


Langwith College and the Department of Computer Science (both part of the University of York).

Me and my work

I’m looking at how the brain talks to itself, so that we can then use these ideas to control robots and see how robots can think for themselves and think as a team.

My work looks at how the brain behaves in a similar way to a colony of ants. The idea is that individual ants have no idea what is going on in the overall colony, but the colony as a whole acts in a way that is considered intelligent (for example, it responds to threats, searches for food, and repairs the nest when it gets damaged). I’m looking at whether the brain works in the same way as this, where individual nerve cells (neurons) have no idea what is going on around them, they just respond blindly, but when enough neurons are connected, the brain is clearly intelligent.

I then want to put this into robots so that the robots can behave intelligently and can work together as a team to complete tasks.

My Typical Day

I spend most of my time either in my office coming up with wacky ideas to try in the lab, in the lab trying out these wacky ideas on the robots, or in the classroom teaching younger students about how the brain can be like a computer.

What I'd do with the money

If I won the money, I would like to invest in some simple robots that we could take into schools and teach the students how to use them and run experiments with them.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Lively, inquisitive, creative.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

The Guillemots

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I once hitch-hiked from York to Paris — it was an amazing experience (and I got to have a holiday in Paris at the end of it!).

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1: Longer weekends. 2: More chocolate. 3: Longer summers.

What did you want to be after you left school?

A teacher, although I went through a phase of wanting to be a professional cyclist and in the armed forces!

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Oh yeah, all the time. I was a right little trouble-maker. I only started behaving once I started realising how cool science could be, and found that I wasn’t bored any more. Since then, the sky has been the limit.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

A few years back me and bunch of mates got bored and decided to build rockets in our back gardens. We ended up in a competition with some neighbours for how far we could fire them — turns out that all the physics I learnt at school came in very handy!

Tell us a joke.

Why did the scarecrow win the Nobel prize? He was outstanding in his field!

Other stuff

Work photos:

So this is a photo of our robot lab (with one of my supervisors Jon in the background,  and some our flying robots in the foreground РCopyright Ian Martindale):


Here we have some of our little e-Puck robots, which work together as a team:


And here is the (rather busy) control area, with a number of my colleagues concentrating very hard! (Copyright Ian Martindale)