Professor Robert F Harrison

Professor of Computational Data Modelling

Professor Rob HarrisonAddress:
Robert F Harrison BSc PhD
Department of Automatic Control and Systems Engineering
University of Sheffield
S1 3JD
Tel: (+44) (0)114 222 5139
Room: D02, Amy Johnson Building


I joined the Department as a Lecturer in 1987 by way of Oxford and Southampton universities with a brief sojourn at Harwell Laboratories. My original training was in acoustics and vibration but developed into control systems and then neural networks and machine learning to which I have devoted most of my professional attention.

I was promoted to Reader in Computational Data Modelling in 1998 following which I was elected by the Faculty of Engineering at Princeton University to a Visiting Fellowship in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and to a Fellowship of Butler College. I am a member of the editorial boards of a number of international journals and have served on numerous technical committees of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) and professional groups of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (now IET). More recently I was elected to a Visiting Fellowship at James Cook University. On 1 January 2012, I was appointed to a Chair in Computational Data Modelling. I have acted twice as Head of Department, in 2008-09 and again in 20011-12, and, since 2014, have been Director of our Centre for Doctoral Training in Control & Systems Engineering.

Between April 2009 and April 2012, I acted as Director of Sheffield's Rail Innovation and Technology Centre (RITC), a research initiative funded by Network Rail and drawing on research strengths across the whole of the Engineering Faculty. The aim here was to bring new technologies to bear on the ageing infrastructure of Britain's railways.

I have delivered short courses on machine learning as far afield as Chongqing, where I am a visiting Professor, and Johannesburg, and have directed the Department's Master's Training Programme in Control Systems. Prior to this, I devised, implemented and directed two highly successful MSc Programmes by distance learning in Hong Kong and Singapore.

My research work has focused on the application of systems engineering methods in the biomedical life-sciences and some has won prizes and has been featured in the national press and broadcast media

Research interests

Computational Data Modelling: neural networks; machine learning; kernel machines; support vector machines; generalised linear models; clustering; dimensionality reduction; pattern recognition; data visualisation; pattern classification; pattern discrimination; regression; function approximation; Bayesian analysis; Gaussian processes; system identification; Volterra series; polynomial models; NARX/NARMAX modelling; parsimony; sparsity control; covariate selection; model selection; structure detection; iterative majorization; majorize/minimize algorithms; minorize/maximize algorithms; kernel density estimation; missing/incomplete data problems; EM methods; extended Kalman filtering; unscented Kalman filtering; nonstationary random processes.

Applications: clinical decision support; identification of acute coronary syndromes; chest pain diagnosis; prediction of treatment failure and complications in diabetes sufferers; trauma prognosis; space weather forecasting; geomagnetic storm prediction; analysis of thyroid function; analysis of biological pathways; tissue micro-array analysis; computational drug discovery; virtual screening; chronobiology; river catchment modelling; optimal therapy scheduling via non-linear optimal control; prognosis in complex technological systems e.g. gas turbine engine systems; meta-modelling of gas turbine engines.


  • ACS427 Neural Networks
  • ACS428 Hybrid Control Systems


Western Park Hospital Cancer Charity, V Parker, A A Pacey, R F Harrison, PR Heath, 'Predicting disease relapse and failure of primary chemotherapy in patients with Gestational Trophoblastic Neoplasia’, (2016–2019), £200,000

EPSRC, D A Stone, M P Foster, D Gladwin, D I Fletcher, S C Koh, R F Harrison et al., 'TransEnergy – Road to Rail Energy Exchange (R2REE)', (2016 - 2019), £1.5M

Rolls-Royce plc, A R Mills, RF Harrison, V Kadirkamanathan, 'Lean burn', (2016-2016), £44,031

TSB, A R Mills, V Kadirkamanathan, J Liu, R F Harrison, ' PreDICT', (2014-2017), £215,000

DEFRA, D A Lerner, P R Bibby, R F Harrison, 'Validation of trading estate runoff analysis',  (2013-2015), £150,000

EPSRC/Network Rail, M Gilbert, CC Smith, RF Harrison, `Ultimate & permissible limit state behaviour of soil-filled masonry arch bridges´, (2011-2015), £468,000

Network Rail/TSB, HA Thompson, RF Harrison, `Energy harvesting and wireless sensors for remote condition monitoring of railway infrastructure´, (2010-2012), £160,000

Network Rail, R F Harrison, Establishment of a Rail Innovation and Technology Centre, (2009-2014), £400,000

Sheffield Hospitals Charitable Trust, Dr S S Cross (Genomic Medicine) R F Harrison, `Expression of cell adhesion molecules, matrix metalloproteinases and cell cycle regulator proteins in carcinoma of the oesophagus using Tissue Micro Arrays´, (2003—2005), £9,000

EPSRC, R F Harrison `A new approach to non-linear adaptive filtering´, (2001—2003), £86,000

DTI, R F Harrison, P J Fleming, N Mort, S Bennett, `Extension to Control Technology Transfer Network (CTTnet)´, (1998—2000), £150,000

EPSRC, R F Harrison, Rolls-Royce plc, `The inclusion of posterior knowledge in fault diagnosis´, (1995—1999), £324,000

SERC, R F Harrison, R L Kennedy (Medicine, Edinburgh), `Artificial neural networks in clinical decision support´, (1993—1996), £113,000

SERC, R F Harrison, R L Kennedy (Medicine, Edinburgh), `Neural network-based decision support systems which learn in real-time, non-stationary environments´, (1993—1996), £107,000

Scottish Office, R F Harrison, R L Kennedy (Medicine, Edinburgh), `Development of strategies for management of acute ischaemic heart disease´, (1993—1995), £116,000

Altim Medical Systems Ltd, R F Harrison, R L Kennedy (Medicine, Edinburgh) `Development of a diagnostic aid for heart attack´, (1992—1995), £95,000

Professional activities and recognition

  • Member IFAC Technical Committee on Fuzzy and Neural Systems (1996—2003) and on Robust Control and Non-linear Control (both 2003—2006)
  • Member IFAC TCs on Cognition and Control (2003 on) and Modelling and Control of Biomedical Systems (2006 on)
  • Consulting Editor for the International Journal of Systems Science (2000 on), and member of the editorial boards of the International Journal of Hybrid Intelligent Systems (2003 - 2009) and the International Journal on Knowledge Based Intelligent Engineering Systems (2004 - 2010)
  • Professional short courses: University of the Witwatersrand (1996 & 1998); Chongqing University (2008 – 2010)
  • Industrial collaboration/consultancy: AERE, Harwell; UKAEA, Culcheth; Rolls-Royce; Corus; Astra Zeneca; GlaxoSmithKline; Pfizer; Anadigm; Altim Medical Systems; DRTS; NCAPSA; iPlas; Scottish Water; Environment Agency; Atkins plc; Network Rail; Diurnal; NHS.
  • Numerous invited talks both nationally and internationally, including the University of the Witwatersrand, UNAM (Mexico), Princeton University (USA), MIT (USA), IIT Kanpur (India), Chongqing University (China)

Key publications since 2012

Debono, M., Harrison, R. F., Whitaker, M. J., Eckland, D., Arlt, W., Keevil, B. G., & Ross, R. J. (2016). Salivary cortisone reflects cortisol exposure under physiological conditions and after hydrocortisone. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, jc.2015-3694. doi:10.1210/jc.2015-3694

Goodwin, J. C., Fletcher, D. I., & Harrison, R. F. (2016). Multi-train trajectory optimisation to maximise rail network energy efficiency under travel-time constraints. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Part F: Journal of Rail and Rapid Transit. doi:10.1177/0954409715593304

Zaidan, M. A., Mills, A. R., Harrison, R. F., & Fleming, P. J. (2016). Gas turbine engine prognostics using Bayesian hierarchical models: A variational approach. Mechanical Systems and Signal Processing, 70-71, 120-140. doi:10.1016/j.ymssp.2015.09.014

Debono, M., Mallappa, A., Gounden, V., Nella, A. A., Harrison, R. F., Crutchfield, C. A.,  … Merke, D. P. (2015). Hormonal circadian rhythms in patients with congenital adrenal hyperplasia: identifying optimal monitoring times and novel disease biomarkers. European Journal of Endocrinology, 173(6), 727-737. doi:10.1530/EJE-15-0064

Zaidan, M. A., Relan, R., Mills, A. R., & Harrison, R. F. (2015). Prognostics of gas turbine engine: An integrated approach. Expert Systems with Applications, 42(22), 8472-8483. doi:10.1016/j.eswa.2015.07.003

Zaidan, M. A., Harrison, R. F., Mills, A. R., & Fleming, P. J. (2015). Bayesian Hierarchical Models for aerospace gas turbine engine prognostics. Expert Systems with Applications, 42(1), 539-553. doi:10.1016/j.eswa.2014.08.007

Fang, Y., Chen, M., Zheng, X., & Harrison, R. F. (2012). Extending CSP to detect motor imagery in a four-class BCI. Journal of Information and Computational Science, 9(1), 143-151.

Fang, Y., Chen, M., Zheng, X., & Harrison, R. F. (2012). Feature extraction of motor imagery in BCI with approximate entropy. Journal of Computational Information Systems, 8(6), 2485-2491.

Li, J., Jiang, T., Harrison, R. F., & Grzybowski, S. (2012). Recognition of ultra high frequency partial discharge signals using multi-scale features. IEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation, 19(4), 1412-1420. doi:10.1109/TDEI.2012.6260018