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Department of Computer Science and Technology

Professor Sir Andy Hopper has created the Hopper Studentship fund that will enable one recipient every year to study for their PhD here.

Andy himself was fortunate enough to be offered a funded place when he first came to Cambridge 49 years ago to pursue a PhD in 'Local Area Computer Communication Networks' with pioneering Computer Scientist David Wheeler

Later on, he would also chair the Department's PhD Applications Panel. "So I know how valuable funding is in enabling us to offer places to students who wouldn't otherwise be able to take them up," he says.

Now he in turn is gifting a fund to the Department that will enable other students to complete their PhDs here. "What's so important about PhD students is the way they inject fresh blood into the Department," he explains. "A PhD programme is a structure for regularly bringing in new ideas – and that’s what keeps the Department in good intellectual heart."

"Andy's support for PhD students is hugely valuable to the Department," says Professor Ann Copestake, Head of Department. "PhD students are absolutely essential to what we do, but we lack adequate funding to support them across the breadth of research covered in the Department. Studentships enable us to take in exceptional candidates who will drive the discoveries of the future."

We launched the Hopper Studentship, and marked Andy's official retirement, in September. At the event, Andy met Wilf Offord, the first recipient of the Hopper Studentship. They are pictured here underneath a photograph from which Andy's own PhD supervisor David Wheeler is looking down on them.

Andy's support for PhD students is hugely valuable to the Department. Studentships enable us to take in exceptional candidates who will drive the discoveries of the future.

Ann Copestake

Andy's association with Cambridge began in 1974 after he completed his BSc in Computer Technology at the then University College of Swansea. He'd applied to do a PhD at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne ("because I enjoyed skiing!") but received no response from them. Then his Professor at Swansea suggested he approached Cambridge.

"I called them up and they said, 'Come up quickly'," he recalls. "So I did. When I walked in, Roger Needham and Maurice Wilkes were sitting there. They took one look at me and said, 'You're in'."

"It would not have been the same without coming to Cambridge"
He subsequently discovered that the intended recipient had just withdrawn and without a new candidate to fill the vacancy, they would have lost the EPSRC-funded studentship. "I just happened to be the next person who walked in through the door," he says modestly, "and they said 'yes' to me. These things happen."

It was the start of a long and distinguished career, "which would not have been the same without coming to Cambridge". It has embraced pioneering research both in academia and industry, in fields including location sensing and 'Computing for the Future of the Planet', and been recognised with honours including a Fellowship of the Royal Society, a CBE and a knighthood.

Andy is a serial entrepreneur: the companies on his CV include Orbis, Acorn, Olivetti/AT&T Lab, Virata, Solarflare, Ubisense, RealVNC and lowRISC. He also combined working in the Department with co-founding and managing the Olivetti Research / AT&T Laboratories research lab.

I know how valuable funding is in enabling us to offer places to students who wouldn't otherwise be able to take them up.

Andy Hopper

He credits the 'revolving door' approach here – which he first took advantage of as a lecturer and later encouraged as Head of Department – for enabling him and others to work simultaneously in industry and as an academic, and for enabling world-changing innovations to come out of the Department.

For him they include the low-cost computer Raspberry Pi – the best-selling computer to come out of the UK. It also includes his current passion for establishing a 'digital commons'. He wants to see national infrastructure implemented, like the water or road networks, that offer individuals and companies of every size equal access to digital building blocks and tools made available by industrial contributors.

Lobbying for 'digital commons'
"Computing and digital technologies of all kinds are so pervasive and will continue to be so in every aspect of life, that I think of them as a utility like water," he says. "Just as you can’t be without water, so you can’t be without digital technologies. After the war there was a profound societal change and the National Health Service was born. A similarly profound change is happening now, so the country needs to create a National Digital Service."

 lowRISC, a not-for-profit company he chairs and which involves members of the faculty here, is an example of this vision. It uses collaborative engineering to develop and maintain open source silicon designs and tools focusing on the security of digital systems. He may officially be retiring, but lowRISC is the project that will be occupying his time.

And he'll also be happy to take time to meet the recipients of the Hopper Studentship. He has supervised over 50 PhD students himself "so I’m not short of experience. If they want to talk to me, I'm interested and available."

"Flexibility is important"
And if they're running into problems, he adds, he'll be happy to remind them that "you don’t just have to keep going the same way, you could flex, you could change direction." And that's what's required, he says, for innovation that can change the world.

That's why the Studentship will not be limited to his own areas of interest but can be in any field from theory to AI, "because flexibility is important".

The first recipient has already been chosen. And every year from now on there will be another, so that at any time, there will be a cohort of three Hopper Students in the Department. That's a regular stream of 'new blood' coming into the building, a thought that Andy relishes.

"Being able to leave a permanent gift like this to the Department fills my heart with joy," he says.




Published by Rachel Gardner on Wednesday 18th October 2023