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I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.
Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico
More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.
As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.
The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.
The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit: through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.
This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!
—Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections