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March, 2010

Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach blog shares stories of collaborations with computer scientists at academic and scientific institutions to advance technical innovations in computing, as well as related events, scholarships, and fellowships.

March, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Introducing Chemistry Add-in for Word


    Every discipline has its own language. The ability to communicate and collaborate in a discipline-specific language is essential to scientific research, especially in an environment characterized by staggering volumes of data.   


    In chemistry, not only is there a specific language, but also specific symbols. Empowering those symbols by enabling them to communicate across technologies and formats, as well as simplifying authoring and semantic annotation, is at the heart of the Chemistry Add-in for Word. Informally called Chem4Word, this free tool is being unveiled today during the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2010 National Meeting & Exposition.


    Chem4Word makes it easier for students, chemists and researchers to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas and 2-D depictions, from within Microsoft Office Word. Designed for and tested on both Word 2007 and Word 2010, it harnesses the power of Chemical Markup Language (XML for chemistry), making it possible not only to author chemical content in Word, but also to include the data behind those structures.  Chem4Word and Chemical Markup Language make chemistry documents open, readable and easily accessible, not just to other humans, but also to other technologies.


    In the image below, the name and 2D views of the same chemical are shown in the document, along with the Chemistry Navigator, which displays all of the chemistry zones within the current document.




    In addition to authoring functionality, Chem4Word enables user denotation of inline “chemical zones,” the rendering of high-quality and print-ready visual depictions of chemical structures and the ability to store and expose semantic-rich chemical information across the global chemistry community.


    The product of an ongoing collaboration between Microsoft Research and Dr. Peter Murray-Rust, Dr. Joe Townsend, and Jim Downing from the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics at the University of Cambridge, the Chem4Word project took inspiration from the mathematic-equation authoring capabilities in Word 2007.  We also have taken advantage of user-interface extensibility and XML features already included in Office 2007 and Office 2010, and we hope this provides a demonstration of the power of Microsoft Office as a platform.  Microsoft Research worked closely with key individuals in the field of chemistry to develop this tool, but Microsoft Office provides the tools and resources to enable other domains to develop on top of Office applications.


    Further guiding the development of the Chem4Word project was the Microsoft External Research team’s commitment to supporting the scholarly communications lifecycle, which calls for software and related services that enable the coordinated, seamless exchange of data and information, from authoring through publication to long-term preservation.   


    The beta release of the Chemistry Add-in for Word is available for free download. Later this year, it will be released as an open-source project under an Apache license via CodePlex.


    Alex Wade, director for Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    TechFest 2010


    Even today, there is nothing quite like seeing innovation up close and in person. That’s why you don’t need a calendar to know when it’s the TechFest season at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington.  Every year, researchers from around the world come to Redmond to share their most compelling, innovative work with colleagues, including those who apply the knowledge gleaned from research into Microsoft products.


    One of the more compelling topics explored during this year’s TechFest was Client + Cloud Computing for Research. This approach takes into consideration the fact that scientific applications have requirements that range from the desktop to super computers. To meet those requirements, cloud computing provides a way to accommodate evolving scientific needs with a model that’s scalable, economically feasible and accessible on demand.


    To learn more about the ways this model can be applied, presentations were given on several projects, including:

    - Azure Ocean – A Sea of Data in the Cloud

    - Bioinformatics Computation in the Cloud

    - ModisAzure – Azure Service for Remote Sense Geoscience

    - Tools to Transform the Potential of Cloud to Reality for Research.


    Another event of particular interest to the global research community was a presentation on the Microsoft Research Biology Extension for Excel. This add-in for Microsoft Office Excel 2007 simplifies the process of working with genomic sequences, metadata and interval data – all within an Excel document. The Biology Extension implements several features of the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF), including a set of parsers for common genome file formats, a set of sequencing algorithms for assembly of a consensus DNA strand and connectors to several Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) Web services for genome identification. It can also be extended to use other MBF features.

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Happy International Women's Day


    Today is the 99th annual International Women’s Day, and an opportunity to discuss an issue that should concern all of us: the lack of women in computing.  Even though we’ve made slight progress recently—according to data shared by the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT)—in 2008 only 18 percent of all computer science degrees were earned by women. This is a dramatic drop from 37 percent in 1985. Closely related is the fact that girls represented only 17 percent of those who took advanced placement computer science exams, making it the AP exam with the lowest female representation. Given these two statistics, perhaps it isn’t surprising that only 16 percent of Fortune 500 technology companies have female corporate officers, and that women hold less than a quarter of the technology jobs, even though they hold more than half of all professional occupations in the U.S. Of greater concern, since there are fewer women in the field, when technology companies are hiring, even during an economic downturn, there are fewer female candidates.


    Diversity and parity are important social indicators. Additionally, diversity of thought is a clear business necessity for innovation and thought leadership. In fact, statistics on U.S. technology patenting show that the patents created by mixed-gender teams are the most highly cited, a testament to their innovation, usefulness and, ultimately, profitability.


    Front and center in this arena is computer science. A very creative field, it requires diversity of thought to thrive.  And that’s where I come in. I have the best job at Microsoft: My job is to help improve these numbers and make sure the issue of too few women in this field is as obsolete as the mainframe computer. It’s a big job, to be sure, but one I love.


    In addition to working internally at Microsoft to ensure that we continually foster an environment that values diversity, passion and ingenuity, I also conduct outreach to organizations ranging from the NCWIT’s Academic Alliance Seed Fund (through which Microsoft contributes to the gender diversity activities of colleges and universities in the US), the ABI’s Grace Hopper Conference, the CRA-W Grad Cohort for Women Program, and many other computing communities around the world.


    I’m old enough to know that change isn’t always easy. Sometimes, in fact, it seems downright impossible. So whenever I find myself in a discouraging moment, I just focus on a special person: my 90 year-old mother. When she was born, your outlook meant your attitude, nobody had a car, and electricity was a luxury. Today, she uses e-mail to keep in touch with her grandchildren and friends and checks her stock portfolio regularly on the Internet.  She is curious and she is brave. This inspires me, not only because she’s my mother, but because it shows that people can learn, that innovation and creativity are part of the human fabric, and that it can happen for everyone.  


    Jane Prey, PhD, is a senior research program manager with Microsoft Research External Research. She is also an active member of IEEE, with which Microsoft is collaborating to empower students to achieve their professional aspirations.

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