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March, 2010

Microsoft Research Connections Blog

The Microsoft Research Connections 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 Connections Blog

    Introducing Chemistry Add-in for Word

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    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 Connections Blog

    Data, Data Everywhere: The Economist Tackles Business Implications of Superabundant Information

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    If you wonder about how to maximize the benefits of the enormous amount of data now available while minimizing the headaches of managing it, you are not alone. The Economist recently published a special section with several articles on the topic, addressing issues near and dear to the global research community – including storage, computation and visualization. With the data joining the ranks of capital and labor as an ingredient critical to success (in business and in research), how will we train the next generation of scientists, governmental organizations and industry leaders to effectively use the data we’re creating and gathering to propel economic growth? Among others, the articles drew on the expertise of Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, and Alexander Szalay, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University (and a long-time Microsoft Research collaborator). The special section was published in The Economist’s Feb. 25 print and online editions.  The various articles provide great perspectives on this situation, and include some intriguing quotes and illustrative charts, so I highly recommend seeking out this thoughtful overview.

     

    Lee Dirks  – director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Digital Preservation: Informing Tomorrow Today

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    Ironically, the faster we progress in terms of technology, the shorter the lifespan of our tools becomes.  History that was etched into stone walls or tablets millennia ago is still readable in its original format, much more clearly and easily accessible, in fact, then data “saved” a few years ago on a 3½ inch floppy disk.  And this situation is even more critical when we understand that as a race, we’re creating exponentially more data now than we ever have in human history, but on far less stable media.

     

    Research and discovery that improves lives is fueled in large part by an accurate view of history. That’s why it’s critical for us to proactively and collaboratively determine how to best preserve our history so that future generations can learn from our accomplishments and (more importantly) our failures. If not properly preserved, links to critical data embedded within scholarly articles, for example, will wind the reader’s clock back to the age of leather-bound journals. Our data is the DNA of our time, and it’s essential that we preserve it.

     

    It’s been an honor to represent Microsoft Research on the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Access and Preservation, a role in which I’ve had the opportunity to articulate the corporate perspective and to learn more about the responsibility Microsoft has as a company that creates many of the technologies used to save huge amounts of data.

     

    The task force recently released its final report – Sustainable Economics for a Digital Planet: Ensuring Long-Term Access to Digital Information – an in-depth review of the value of preservation and recommendations on how to best pursue and sustain it from an economic standpoint. The recommendations take into consideration both data that was born digital – Web pages, for example – and data that became digital after being converted, usually via scanning. The report concludes that ensuring accessibility of valuable digital assets far into the future will require a mobilization of human, technical and financial resources across a spectrum of stakeholders.  The task force delved deeper into four specific categories of information for the purposes of this report – including scholarly discourse, research data, commercially owned cultural content and collectively produced Web content – but there are clearly other areas of great important that merit additional attention. The report recommends that action be taken to articulate a compelling value proposition and to provide clear incentives to preserve in the public interest. To pursue digital preservation, it’s also essential that roles and responsibilities be defined among stakeholders in order to ensure that resources are made available for preservation throughout the digital lifecycle.

     

    While commitments made today are not commitments for all time, we do believe that actions must be taken now to ensure that we will have preservation options in the future.  Types of actions the panel is recommend span a spectrum of different activities, including educational and public outreach efforts, public policy advocacy, specific organizational initiatives and, of course, technical work.

     

    This Thursday, April 1, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern the panel will host a National Conversation on the Economic Sustainability of Digital Information in Washington, D.C. While the event itself is fully booked, you are invited to watch the live stream via the Internet. We hope you will make an effort to participate in this important dialog.

     

    Lee Dirks  – director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research

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