Each of the three research themes of iCIS (Digital Security, Software Science, and Data Science) has its own research focus and aims. These themes build upon Radboud University’s long-standing tradition of combining cutting-edge research on the mathematical foundations of computer science with societally relevant problems that are susceptible to scientific solutions. The local themes are fully in line with national challenges (e. g., as defined by the Roadmap ICT for the top sectors and its Scientific Answers) and international key thematic challenges (e. g., as laid down in the ICT Programme of Horizon 2020).
The research mission of the Institute for Computing and Information Sciences (iCIS) is to improve the security and reliability of computer-based systems and algorithms through mathematically founded theories, methods and tools. On the one hand the applicability of the institute’s methods and tools is validated by tackling these problems, as encountered in society, industry, and other scientific disciplines. On the other hand, research problems are abstracted from concrete problems encountered in reality. Alongside its research ambitions, it is iCIS’ mission to deliver PhD graduates capable of working at the appropriate level of abstraction that allows them to keep an overview over developments, independently of accidental details and hypes of the moment, with the skills to extend knowledge boundaries, and with an analytical and critical mind-set.
It is our view that academic research should be focused on going beyond knowledge boundaries and developing new paradigms. It has a high cultural and societal value, even though actual applications may appear only after many years. Pure curiosity driven research is crucial for long term viability, as it sows
the seeds that more applied research will harvest on in the future.
The need for pure computer science research. The fast pace of development of computer related technology works as a permanent trigger that comes in hypes and often requires budgets that are beyond the means of a (medium sized) university. Consequently, in subareas of the quickly developing ICT-field, companies have become leading, for instance in information technology (Google), operating systems (Apple, Microsoft, Google), and databases (Oracle). In addition, there is a large community that has a focus on open source software with the Linux Foundation as a typical example that has an increasingly large impact on the use of information technology, particularly in cloud computing. Many of these companies and initiatives originate from and still rely on academic research, for instance for new and efficient algorithms, protocols, and data structures. Given this context, where an important part of (more applied) ICT research and development takes place outside of academia, our vision and highest priority is to perform pure computer science (“informatica”) research.
Applied research, while retaining independence. Pure computer science research certainly does not exclude applied research. On the contrary, we view exploring the possibilities and limitations of new technological developments as an important applied research activity in itself. Such investigations are very relevant
within an academic setting, not only to obtain research inspiration and focus from the newest technologies, but also to generate external revenues: as core funding is limited, external projects are crucial to maintain a healthy volume of research. External projects may include contract research, but its content and volume
should never endanger our independence: society relies on academia to perform research that may occasionally be unwelcome to some private parties.
A driver for other scientific disciplines. Nowadays, almost all scientific disciplines heavily depend on computer technology. Advances in computer science can lead to breakthroughs in other sciences and, vice versa, scientific challenges in other fields can inspire novel computer science research. At iCIS, we are willing
to spend considerable efforts to demonstrate the usefulness of our methods, in close collaboration with fellow researchers from other scientific disciplines, but never loose sight of our main ambition: to improve computerbased systems and algorithms that are applicable across a whole range of applications.
Our glue: models and mathematics. Since actual software is usually too complicated and large to comprehend, abstractions are needed, in the form of models. Ideally, such models are formulated before programming starts. Often in practice, a system has already been developed, and one has to distill a model afterwards, e.g. by learning it through observations. Such a model is usually a mathematical artifact (e. g., a certain automaton) that can be analysed, often with dedicated computer programs (tools) such as simulators, model checkers or theorem provers. In such a way one can establish suitable properties of the model, and thus of the software that will be built on top of it. Formal (mathematical) modelling and analysis therefore play an important role within each of the research themes and form the common language and glue among them.
Coping with complexity. The increasing complexity of software and proliferation of data require the development and analysis of methods and tools that scale well to large problem sizes. Within each of our three themes, coping with complexity has become a major scientific and intellectual challenge. Human resources. As any research institute, we aim for excellence and can only do so by having excellent staff and students. New positions are therefore advertised with a very broad profile, after which the top candidate is selected. If no top candidates are available, the position remains unfilled. Diversity creates to a strong research culture. We put in additional efforts to attract top-quality female staff and staff with a diverse international background.
The overall objective of iCIS is to perform excellent scientific research and to have a positive impact in science and also in society — both in terms of improved economic performance and in terms of social well-being. iCIS not only aims to study technical aspects of software systems, but also their embedding
in the environments in which they have to operate. iCIS wants to have firm roots within the broad “general university” environment offered by the Radboud
University. This also explains the focus on formal modelling and analysis and distinguishes iCIS from computer science departments at technical universities, which typically have a more applied focus. iCIS aims to contribute to the progress of computer science itself and also to the progress of science by ICT applications
in other disciplines, such as neuroscience, biology, law, and medicine, scientific areas in which the Radboud University is particularly strong.