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March, 2012

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, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Presenting the History of Everything

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    ChronoZoom: an infinite canvas in time

    Today, March 14—Einstein’s birthday no less—marks the release of the beta version of an incredible new tool for the study of history: ChronoZoom. This powerful open-source tool, a joint effort of the University of California, Berkeley; Moscow State University; the Outercurve Foundation; and Microsoft Research Connections, will be unveiled at the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) Conference and is available for download.

    What, you might ask, is so wonderful about ChronoZoom? After all, history resources abound. There are thousands of digital repositories, collections, libraries, and websites full of images, videos, documents, facts, and figures—not to mention the wealth of content squirreled away in private offices, personal computers, and university servers. But the sheer volume and disparate locations of these resources confound researchers, educators, and students, who spend untold hours searching this information, seeking to better understand history and its lessons for our future. What if we had a tool that could bring all these resources together?

    Moreover, despite increasing collaboration, the sciences and humanities are still largely taught and researched in silos. For example, when I took an East Asian Studies course in college, I learned what was happening in China in the 1400s, but not what was going on in the Middle East or Africa or Latin America, or what was taking place in the scientific realms of physics and chemistry. If we brought these worlds together, would we ask different questions? Would we arrive at new understandings of the past, resulting in different innovations and insights today?

    Such are the questions we hope to answer with ChronoZoom, which makes time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources, including videos, text, charts, schematics, images, articles, and other multimedia content. ChronoZoom thus serves as a "master timeline," tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and it aspires to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences. In the spirit of “make no small plans,” ChronoZoom seeks to unify all knowledge of the past and to make this information easy to understand.

    In so doing, ChronoZoom emerges as a potentially vital tool in the evolving field of Big History, which attempts to unify the past—all of the past, from the beginning of time, some 13.7 billion years ago, to the present—through the four major regimes: cosmic history, Earth history, life history, and human history. Big History offers a broad understanding of how the past has unfolded, and it lets us explore the unifying characteristics that can bridge the intellectual chasm between the humanities and the sciences.

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    Today’s release of ChronoZoom is especially exciting for me because this tool was made by the academic community for the academic community. There’s no other timeline tool today that is supported by such a vast number of experts in different disciplines around the world. ChronoZoom has two communities that are led by two outstanding universities:

    • The content community, which provided the digital content to populate and share on ChronoZoom, led by Professor Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow at the University of California, Berkeley
    • The development community, which built the feature set to bring ChronoZoom to life, led by Dr. Sergey Berezin at Moscow State University.

    In addition, significant student involvement sets ChronoZoom apart. On the dev side, more than 80 percent of ChronoZoom is the work of undergraduate and graduate computer science students at Moscow State. The amazing application you can explore today was developed in three months by these students with support from Microsoft Research engineers. Similarly, 90 percent of the content in ChronoZoom was organized and developed by students at Cal Berkeley. 

    Today’s release is a call to action to the academic community to try ChronoZoom in their classrooms and then vote on its features and let us know what could make the tool even more useful. For academic experts and digital collection owners, it’s an opportunity to help determine the content that should be in ChronoZoom. For computer science institutions and developers around the world, it’s a call to join our open-source community and help us build the next set of features.

    ChronoZoom has a long history and has gone through different phases of development. In the spring of 2009, Roland Saekow had the good fortune of taking Professor Alvarez's Big History course. During the course, Professor Alvarez used a variety of tools, from log scales to multi-sheet paper timelines, to convey the vast time scales of Big History.

    Luckily, Saekow remembered a TED talk about a new computer zoom technology called Seadragon. He approached Professor Alvarez after class, and they started brainstorming about how a zoomable timeline would function. With the help of the Industry Alliances group on campus, they got in touch with Microsoft Research and Microsoft Live Labs, which helped produce the first prototype version of ChronoZoom.

    Today, with feedback from other Big History, humanities, and science professors around the world, we are focused on creating an all-new ChronoZoom that is a great educational tool for the classroom and research tool for academics. After creating the first version of ChronoZoom, we worked in collaboration with universities, professors, and students to make this tool easier to use in the classroom, but we definitely encourage feedback. This is why we are making the ChronoZoom beta version available to the community—hoping for significant feedback and collaboration to create a great tool that helps students, educators, and researchers really understand the history of everything.

    We’re pleased to announce that the ChronoZoom project is now part of the Outercurve Foundation’s Research Accelerators Gallery. The Outercurve Foundation, a non-profit, open-source foundation, provides software IP management and project development governance to 22 open-source projects. The foundation’s four galleries—the Research Accelerators, ASP.NET Open Source, Data, Languages and Systems Interoperability, and Innovators Galleries—support the collaborative development of software in open-source communities, yielding faster results and improved community development for organizations and research groups worldwide

    If you’re attending the NCCE Conference, I hope you’ll visit me today as I launch ChronoZoom beta in a training workshop for educators. And wherever you are, please try out the ChronoZoom beta in the weeks ahead, as we hope to get more than 500,000 users providing feedback over the next six months. If you want to help with content or development, please email us at chronozoomproject@outercurve.org.

    Zoom away!

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    COSBI Researchers Hunt for Obesity Factors at the Molecular Level

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    What do residents of rural Arkansas and researchers in Trento, Italy, have in common, aside, perhaps, from a love of good food? Well, in the case of an ongoing major research program, food is the common link. Well, not exactly food—the good folks in Arkansas aren’t exchanging recipes with the scientists in northern Italy—rather, both groups are actively involved in the Delta Obesity Prevention Vitamin Study, which seeks to unravel the complex molecular nutritional interplay of diet, exercise, genetics, and obesity.

    The study’s long-term goal is to create dietary guidelines that will reduce the incidence of obesity and its related chronic diseases among the residents of the Lower Mississippi Delta, a region of the southern United States that is plagued by corpulence and its complications. The research program is among the first of its kind, since it combines community-based participatory research with translational biomedical strategies that include molecular genetic nutrition research. The results could have far-reaching implications, not just for the rural populations of the Lower Mississippi Delta, but also for national and international public health agencies that seek to prevent and treat obesity.

    Study participants at an Arkansas summer campStudy participants at an Arkansas summer camp

    The study tracks the health and habits of a group of adults and children in Marvell, Arkansas, looking for links between obesity and diet, physical activity, genetics, and body chemistry. A joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit, the study has turned to The Microsoft Research – University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI) for analysis of the complex molecular data.

    Data on the Arkansas participants were compiled at the outset of the study, at the end of a five-week intervention with a more nutritious diet, and one month after the completion of the intervention. The joint analysis of the resulting extensive and complex body of data has been possible thanks to the network biology competencies of COSBI. By using their unique capabilities in molecular nutrition, the researchers at COSBI are analyzing data about the participants’ genotype, habitual diet, blood metabolite levels, and DNA methylation to help elucidate the molecular bases of obesity. If successful, the project could eventually make it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with dietary advice that is tailored to each person’s specific genome.

    COSBI is a joint venture between Microsoft Research and the University of Trento; established in 2005, the centre focuses on the convergence of the life science and computer science, with a goal of understanding biological principles at all levels, from molecules to ecosystems.

    Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)

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    Innovation in Software Research Recognized in 2012 SEIF Awards

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    Microsoft Research Software Engineering Innovation Foundation 2012Today, research in software engineering encompasses a wide range of computer science and engineering disciplines. These include systems and networking technologies, hardware design, programming languages, security, and privacy, to name a few. Microsoft Research actively engages with researchers across these disciplines to advance the state of the art in software engineering applications and tools. The areas of mobile and cloud computing are of particular recent interest, and are where some of the most exciting and innovative work is being done. Today smartphones and cloud services, are being used in complex scenarios pushing the envelope of what software can do. The design of such scenarios introduces challenges unique to this new paradigm.

    The Microsoft Research Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF), a forum for collaboration among software engineers worldwide, presents its annual awards to promote these efforts. The SEIF awards provide seed funding to innovative research in software engineering, recognizing projects that aim to advance the state of art in software engineering.
     
    Now in its third year, SEIF is pleased to announce the winners of the SEIF 2012 request for proposals. This year, the awards have focused on the application of software engineering to mobile and cloud computing.

    As in past years, SEIF winners are spread across the world—with projects as diverse as their backgrounds. For instance, Harald Gall of the University of Zurich plans to create a collaborative tool that uses Microsoft Team Foundation Server to assess software quality. Mayur Naik of Georgia Tech plans to develop an automated test-generation methodology for mobile apps, doing so by advancing a program analysis technique called dynamic symbolic execution while making heavy use of the Microsoft Z3 automated theorem prover. Arno Puder from San Francisco State University intends to develop a toolkit called XMLVM, which can cross-compile a commercially available Android application to Windows Phone 7. Unusually, we have two awards going to the same institution this year. Alexey Gotsman from IMDEA in Spain will be working on a project to specify and validate memory models for Windows Phone. Mark Marron, also at IMDEA, Spain, will be working on finding and fixing memory usage problems.

    These are just a sample of the innovative software engineering projects recognized by this year’s awards. You can read more about them and the rest of the SEIF winners on the SEIF website.

    Congratulations to the 2012 winners!

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, and Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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