Willem Heijltjes

Waiting anxiously for the final votes!

Favourite Thing: Draw pictures to fill a whiteboard, then step back, and marvel…



Utrecht University, The Netherlands (1999-2007) and Edinburgh University (2007-2011)


PhD in Theoretical Computer Science, MSc in Artificial Intelligence, driver’s licence, and some swimming certificates

Work History:

A university in Paris (2011-2012)

Current Job:

I’m a Prize Fellow – like a prize cow, but for scientists


The University of Bath, since 2012

Me and my work

I am making computers smarter and faster by making them think in pictures, instead of words.

Everyone knows that deep down, computers are all about 1’s and 0’s. On the surface, they’re about programming. A program uses words like  ‘if’, ‘then’, ‘else’, that look normal, but mean something special to the computer. And some maths.

I want to change programs to use pictures instead of words. Not people-pictures; not take-your-camera-and-say-cheese pictures; but pictures that a computer understands. Here is a movie for computers:


My Typical Day

I cycle to the university (uphill, meh), think really hard, and then cycle home again (downhill, yay!)

Being a scientist is very much like being in school: you learn something new every day… well, almost every day 😉  Even on normal, boring days when you just go to the office.

The part of computer science that I do is a lot like maths. So on a typical day, I sit down and think. Those are the good days!

Even better days (or weeks) are when I go to a conference. These are all over the world – here’s a picture of some of the places I’ve been since I became a scientist:


What I'd do with the money

Make a computer game!

The pictures that I draw for my work are a lot like a puzzle game. So of course I want to make them into one!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

a bit cheeky

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Miike Snow, Caribou, Yeasayer, Son Lux, The Shins, too many to name!

What's your favourite food?

Homemade pizza, where I can arrange my topping into neat patterns (I’m a bit obsessive like that)

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Capoeira – look it up on YouTube!

What did you want to be after you left school?

Smarter and cleverer. I’m still trying.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

You should try everything at least once, right ;)

What was your favourite subject at school?

Chemistry. My teacher was a bit careless, so we had lots of bigger-than-intended explosions, smelly indoor clouds, and runaway desktop fires, each followed by a classroom evacuation

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

I won a prize! “Best student paper” at a conference – but to be honest, mine was also the *only* student paper…

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

My dad, who’s a lawyer. Anything but that!

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

A famous Hollywood actor, probably ;) Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for science

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

1) To hang on to my hair a little longer. 2) Space on the roads to cycle. 3) Three more wishes (in computer science this is called `recursion’)

Tell us a joke.

There are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary, and those who don’t :)

Other stuff

Work photos:

This is me at work:


I live in Bath, which is very pretty:


This is the university, which is also… nice:


This is a small conference we had last year. People to spot: me, and the Mayor of Bath!