Peter obtained his doctorate at the University of Warwick working on mental imagery and motor control, he then worked at the Ergonomics Unit at University College London before taking up a post at Queen Mary University of London in 1984. At the vanguard of founding the field of Human-Computer Interaction throughout the 1980s, Peter was joint founder and vice president of the British Computer Society’s Human Computer Interaction Specialist Group. He established an HCI research group and postgraduate programme, and wrote seminal HCI texts which helped establish the identity of the field in the UK and internationally.
Peter joined the University of Bath in 1999 as Professor of Computing Science, initially in the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and soon led the establishment of a new Department of Computer Science. He had the vision to understand that Bath was well placed as an institution to grow into a world class academic centre of computing, and under his direction the University founded what has gone on to become an internationally leading department.
Peter served as Head of Computer Science for 7 years. Under his leadership the Department was almost immediately awarded a grade 4 in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise, advancing to a 75% world leading or internationally excellent (3/4*) rating in 2008.
Working together with his wife Hilary, Peter’s research on user interface design and evaluation was highly interdisciplinary, grounded in cognitive modelling at the intersection of Psychology and Computer Science. These projects led to theories of Task Knowledge Structures (TKS) and methods of task analysis, drawing out design implications for user-facing complex systems and technologies. His more recent work on multi-agency coordination between humans and autonomous systems was undertaken in collaboration with industry and government bodies and had an important influence on the aerospace and defence sectors. Supported by many significant grants and projects, Peter authored or co-authored well over 200 papers in journals and conference proceedings. His expertise was recognised by Fellowship of the British Computer Society, and election to the government’s Defence Scientific Advisory Council, rising to become its Vice-Chair. He was selected to sit on the 2001 and 2008 Research Assessment Exercise panels for Computer Science.
Peter was an outstanding mentor to his colleagues and students, and many of them have gone on to hold prominent positions in the UK and across the world. A stimulating colleague, an engaging provocateur and an acute critic, Peter’s ability to get to the heart of a problem was unparalleled.
Professor Eamonn O’Neill, also a former Head of Computer Science at Bath, worked with Peter for 25 years. Eamonn said, “Peter had a profound influence on my life, both professionally and personally. He was there throughout my career, from supervising my PhD to discussing his recent retirement. He enjoyed a good academic argument and never lost the ability to offer a surprising insight to a new question. It has been very moving to see others from across the computer science community commenting on the influence Peter had on them too. I will be forever grateful for the many ways in which he changed the course of my life.” Peter leaves his wife Hilary, who holds a visiting position in the Department of Psychology. In research as in life, they always complemented one another perfectly.
We hope to mark Peter’s contribution to the University of Bath at a moment when colleagues, family and friends are able to attend and mingle. A further announcement will follow when the current situation becomes more certain.