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Appointment of Professor: Marianne Graves Petersen

' I really enjoy doing research ', is almost the first thing the newly appointed professor Marianne Graves Petersen says. This commitment shines clearly on everything she is doing – whether it is research, teaching, communication or being a role model within her field of research.

The fact that Marianne should study IT was not actually on the cards from the beginning. When she had to choose an education, she vacillated between studying physics and design. The choice fell on physics with subsidiary subject in computer science, which she didn't really know anything about. However, over time, her interest in computer science grew, which ended up becoming her main subject.

"It was especially when I got started to study HCI (Human Computer Interaction) that I became really interested in computer science. It was really challenging for me, but it was also very appealing that I not only had to work on optimising computers, but also with the design of the computer's user interfaces with the user in focus. Suddenly, it was about developing and designing something based on people's needs," Marianne explains.

In her work with HCI, she was given the opportunity to combine her passion for science and design. After the master's degree programme, she continued as a PhD student and did her research in HCI. Her PhD dissertation "Designing for Learning in Use of Everyday Artefacts" examined how to create installations and products that are intuitive and easy to use for users – e.g. a music centre from B&O. After the completion of the PHD programme, she was employed at the Department of Computer Science as an assistant professor, later she was promoted to associate professor and has now been appointed professor – all the way connected to the Ubiquitous Computing and Interaction research group.

The researcher

Marianne's field of research is within the areas of interaction design, human computer interaction, augmented reality (AR) and shape-changing interfaces. She is a skilled and respected researcher and, in particular, within tangible and shape-changing user interfaces, she has contributed with ground-breaking results that have attracted considerable attention at ACM SIGCHI – the top conference within Human Computer Interaction.

"One of the areas I work with is flexible interfaces that can make our digital devices and our ways of collaborating more flexible. For example, we use robot technology and new materials to show how our products, such as mobile phones, can to a greater extent adapt to the many different ways in which we use them. We are investigating how shape-changing conference desks can support different ways of collaborating, and how our digital content and physical surroundings can merge in new ways. We do this in collaboration with research colleagues in Eindhoven and Microsoft Research Cambridge, but also in collaboration with industrial partners who contribute with hardware and know-how, for example Linak. Marianne explains. 

Another area Marianne is very engaged in is investigating how complex digital technologies can be implemented, such as Augmented Reality and Machine Learning, through the design of digital teaching tools for children and young people.  The experiments have already given good results, which have been published at conferences and in journals within Child-Computer Interaction. 

"It is important that children, young people and people in general can understand and help to create the digital technologies that are already part of our lives and society, as it is a prerequisite for being able to decide how we want to use them. The tools and design principles we are working with today are often based on the needs of professional users, " explains Marianne. 

At the moment, Marianne and her PhD students are finishing a digital teaching programme together with DR. The researchers have built the technical platform while working together with journalists to prepare the accompanying  teaching material. Marianne elaborates: "We're in the process of completing a course with DR and Ultrabit, which is to be rolled out to pupils in lower secondary education. The project is intended to introduce pupils to machine learning in a tangible way. They are going through various exercises, where they learn how to collect data, train a machine learning model and evaluate it. It is important that they understand that the choices they make in relation to the training data have major consequences in relation to the result. This will support their understanding of their own private (online) lives." 

The experiments in primary and lower secondary schools will be followed up in research based on data from the platform and observations. This part of Marianne's research takes place in collaboration with colleagues from the Department of Culture and Communication in the Interdisciplinary Research centre Centre for Computational Thinking and Design (CCTD) at Aarhus University. Marianne and her colleagues also collaborate with teachers from the city of Aarhus and the foundation Micro:Bit, who delivers the minicomputer which is used around the world for digital technology teaching. 

In her research, Marianne has a strong focus on collaborating with relevant experts to get competent feedback and the opportunity to test her solutions. This has given her a large network within both the research world and the industry. For the past six months, Marianne has been a visiting researcher at Politecnico in Milan.

The initiater

The way the computer-science subject area evolves, new research trends are constantly needed. The development and dissemination of IT in society meant that there was a need to educate Master’s degree graduates who can design and develop physical-digital products. At Aarhus University, this was the starting point for the establishment of the new IT product development programme, which enrolled first class students in 2007. Marianne played a central role in the development of the course activities in the degree programme, but also in teaching and supervision of the students.

"It was both visionary and courageous to create this degree programme, which brought together subjects like design and computer science with entirely new perspectives in order to meet the societal changes we observed. I know that other universities – both in Denmark and abroad - were interested in what we were doing" says Marianne, who has maintained her interest in education, which is why she took on the role as head of degree programme at the Department of Computer Science in 2019.

One of the things that has been important for Marianne in the structure of the programme is collaboration with companies. In connection with the programme's major innovation projects, she has, for example, established a new form of collaboration with companies such as B&O, LEGO, Microsoft, VW and Skoda. Some of these projects have even led to joint patents between students and involved companies.

"It motivates me a lot to work with companies, because it makes it possible to get competent feedback from those who bring the research into the products, and there is a huge amount of learning in that. Today, far too many companies lower the priority of understanding users ' needs, as it is expensive and time-consuming. But at the end of the day, it can be even more expensive to create a product that doesn't match the needs of the target group. I think this is very important for our students, and it is clearly motivating for them to go out to a company and present their projects rather than it all takes place in a classroom, " says Marianne.

The teacher

Marianne is an active teacher and supervisor for students who study computer science and IT product development. She is, for example, in 2023 both course coordinator and lecturer on innovation and business projects at Department of Computer Science.  But it is not just students at the university she is passionate about educating. In fact, it is all age groups that she thinks should be better suited to understand and manage the digital world in which we are living.

"We're facing an acute problem, and we should have started the process yesterday. In the future, our society will only get more digitised, so it is important that the tools and principles that are developed can be understood and used by everyone. Otherwise, large parts of society can be completely put off,"explains Marianne, who collaborates with researchers from Centre for Computational Thinking and Design (CCTD) on this important topic. The purpose of CCTD is to develop research-based education with the emphasis on digital technology in order to strengthen citizens ' digital competences and their democratic participation in a digitised society. 

But it is not only at primary and lower secondary school level that needs to be implemented. Marianne has also played a key role in the development of the Master's degree programme in informatics teaching, which is an in-service teacher education offer that qualifies upper secondary school teachers to teach informatics.

"There is a huge need for education, because we often see that those who are asked to teach in informatics have never had the subject, and therefore lack academic skills. The Master's degree programme in Informatics teaching is a collaboration across six Danish universities, and it is a necessity that we acquire these teaching staff so that they have the competences to equip future generations to become competent digital citizens, " explains Marianne.

The role model

The public debate often focuses on the gender distribution on different degree programmes – e.g. the proportion of women on IT programmes, which is fortunately increasing. Marianne says that her motivation was to help break down the cultural prejudices about what a computer scientist looks like.

"If you want to work with people or make the world a better place, it's an obvious choice to study computer science, as it gives you so many different opportunities to contribute to the development of society, and it's important that there are many different people who are helping to influence our future," says Marianne.

Marianne is very dedicated to her research and her research field, and she is happy to use her engagement for the benefit of others. Marianne is also very interested in creating an inclusive work and study environment in which everyone feels safe and respected. Marianne has therefore helped to start the network ALICE (Alliance for women in IT, Computing, and Engineering at Aarhus University), where female students and researchers meet across disciplines to network both academically and socially. This provides a free space for women.

"Unfortunately, there are still visible and invisible barriers to women's career path at the universities, you can simply look at the statistics." Marianne says.

She has also been an active part of the department's "IT Camp for girls", which gives a group of upper-secondary school students the opportunity to work with IT and technology every year in week 42, in order to show how exciting it is. A concept which has since been copied by several Danish universities.

Congratulations on your appointment, Marianne! We look forward to following you and your research for many years to come!


Professor, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, 2023-

Chairman of the Teaching Committee, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, 2019-

Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, 2006-2022

Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University, 2003-2006

PhD in Computer Science, Department of Computer Science, Aarhus University

MSc in computer Science with subsidiary subject in physical. Aarhus Universitet, 1997

MSc in Human Computer Interaction (graduation with distinction), University of London, 1996


Marianne lives in Risskov with her husband and their five children of different marriages.