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October, 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.

October, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Attracting More Women and Minorities to Technology Careers: An Intern's Perspective

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    As many of you know by now, I am super passionate about how we are going to double the number of women and ethnic minorities in computer science and informatics across the world. As part of my efforts to take on this achievable but daunting task, I have hired two outstanding women (who are pursuing their PhDs) as my interns this summer: Katie Doran and Meagan Rothschild. This month, Katie will tell you about her research and her experience working with me to grow more women and ethnic minorities in computing. You will hear from Meagan in December when we get closer to completing her research findings. Before we hear from Katie, let me tell you a little about her.

    Microsoft Research intern, Katie DoranKatie Doran is pursuing a PhD in computer science at North Carolina State University with an emphasis on educational technologies and serious gaming. She is particularly interested in exploring how emerging games technologies, such as augmented reality and ubiquitous features, can facilitate novel interactions among players and increase learning potential. Katie is heavily involved in the Broadening Participation in Computing Community and leads multiple science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach programs. I had the opportunity to meet Katie during the poster session at the CRA-W Grad Cohort event that Microsoft Research sponsors. I am excited to have her working with me on evaluating ChronoZoom as an educational tool. ChronoZoom is a web-based, interactive visualization of Big History, the broadest possible view of the past stretching from 13.7 billion years ago to today. Our vision is to enable innovative ways of teaching Big History and its various components, and empowering interdisciplinary studies.

    I’d like to hand this blog over to Katie now to tell you about the exciting projects she’s been working on.

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

     

    In addition to my work on ChronoZoom, which has included hands-on sessions with more than 60 students, I have taken the lead on multiple outreach initiatives. Twice, I was able to bring student groups to the Microsoft Redmond campus for hands-on demos of TouchDevelop and IllumiShare, panels with successful women from across Microsoft, and tours of the Microsoft Home. The first group was all middle-school girls from Girls Gather for Computer Science, a summer camp focusing on hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) activities. Our second group was from the University of Washington’s Math Academy, a program for high-school students from underrepresented groups who are on track to complete the highest level math requirements at their schools before graduation. Both groups of students were phenomenal and left campus with an entirely different perspective on what it would be like to have a career as a computer scientist—especially here at Microsoft. Watching the students’ reactions—as they heard about the breadth of work being done by Microsoft employees here in Building 99, across campus, and around the world—was very encouraging. At the end of both sessions, I went home knowing that each of those students had been exposed to opportunities they never even knew existed.

    My third outreach event of the summer was attending STARS Celebration 2012 in Hampton, Virginia. STARS, which stands for Students and Technology in Academia, Research, and Service, is an National Science Foundation-funded Broadening Participation in Computing project that focuses on professional development for university students in STEM fields as well as outreach with elementary and high-school students to build and reinforce interest in studying STEM topics. This event was particularly fun for me, because I have been an active member of STARS since 2008. At STARS Celebration, I was able to present on my own work—STEM outreach in Haiti, evaluating outreach, and outreach with game design and development—and the significant work being done by Microsoft Research to promote an interest in computer science! I presented two sessions on Microsoft tools for outreach use and both were standing room only. Everyone in attendance was impressed with the number of free tools that Microsoft makes available for outreach activities, such as TouchDevelop, Kodu, Pex for fun, and Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer. As a NASA Fellow, the highlight for me was getting to show off the incredibly adorable Mars Rover additions to Kodu. Based on the response I received, I expect large numbers of game designers and astronauts in about 10 years!

    My research and outreach work with Microsoft Research this summer has led me to the biggest annual event for women in computing—the Grace Hopper Celebration 2012 (GHC) in Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve spent the past few weeks working with Rane to organize Microsoft’s presence at GHC. It’s been a big undertaking because Microsoft has an incredible 165 people registered, including six executives and six senior women! It is inspiring to see Microsoft employees taking such an interest in growing the number of women in computer science. With the energy I put towards this effort, it is thrilling to know that the girls I help inspire can apply to a company that is eager to hire, retain, and support exceptional women after they complete their degrees.

    In addition to being overwhelmed with the amazing presence that Microsoft has here, I’ve been busy supporting Anita’s Quilt, a blog from the Anita Borg Institute that allows remarkable women in technical fields to motivate and empower one another through their stories. I’ve been handing out stickers and sharing the story of Anita’s Quilt since I arrived on Tuesday, but if we haven’t met yet, keep your eyes open for me—I’d love to give you a sticker and fill you in. I could also tell you about the wonderful young women I look forward to meeting at the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Award Winners Reception tomorrow. They are an impressive group of brilliant, enthusiastic high-school girls who are going to go on to be the next leaders in computer science. You can find me, my mentor Rane, and a group of other talented, passionate Microsoft women volunteering at the Microsoft booth. Stop by booth #1315 to say hello, get information on internship and career opportunities, and to develop your own Windows Phone application! If you don’t have time to say hello, or you didn’t make it to GHC—you can find out about many of our initiatives at our Women in Computing website. I hope you’re all having as fantastic and inspiring an experience here at Grace Hopper as I am!
     
    —Katie Doran, Intern, Microsoft Research Connections

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    2012 Jim Gray Award Honors Antony John Williams

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    It seems like only yesterday that the eScience team at Microsoft Research came up with the idea of recognizing outstanding contributions to the field of data-intensive computing with an award named in memory of Jim Gray. Jim was a man of vision. The breadth and clarity of the agenda he set forth has provided a roadmap that extends beyond traditional data-intensive research to the maturing field of eScience.

    Last night, October 9, our annual Jim Gray Award banquet brought the 2012 Microsoft eScience Workshop to a close. As I stood on stage, presenting the Jim Gray eScience Award to Antony John Williams, I remembered Jim and thought to myself, “Jim would be pleased with this choice.”

    Jim Gray eScience Award Winner Antony John Williams

    Antony is leading the charge to show how experience, knowledge, insight, and crowd-sourced contributions can build a platform to facilitate a semantic web for chemistry. ChemSpider provides the means by which that can be realized now. Jim valued doers, and, with his pioneering spirit and energy, Antony is exactly that: a doer.

    Jim Gray himself was the ultimate doer, a man with far-ranging interests—from astronomy to zoology, literally A to Z—but none was dearer to him than the idea of using computers to make scientists more productive. Jim had the clarity to see the revolutionary impact of what’s come to be known as Big Data—how data-intensive science had ushered in a new era, which he ccalled the Fourth Paradigm. At the time of his loss at sea (while sailing, another of his myriad interests), Jim was working with the science community to build a worldwide digital library to integrate all scientific literature and its underlying data in one easily-accessible collection.

    Which is why the selection of Antony is so very apt. Antony’s work on ChemSpider aligns precisely with Jim’s vision of a global digital library of science. Jim would also have appreciated the diversity of Antony’s many endeavors. Currently vice president of strategic development and head of Chemoinformatics for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Antony has pursued a career built on rich experience in experimental techniques, implementation of new nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) technologies, research and development, and teaching, as well as analytical laboratory management.

    His selection as the 2012 winner of the Jim Gray eScience Award acknowledges Antony’s leadership in making chemistry publically available through collective action. ChemSpider provides fast text and structure search access to data and links on more than 28 million chemicals, and this marvelous resource is freely available to the scientific community and the general public. Like the previous five winners of the Jim Gray award, Antony’s contributions to eScience have led to the advancement of science through the use of computing. As I said, I am sure that Jim would be pleased with this year’s choice.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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    ChronoZoom Receives Digital Education Achievement Award

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    Many of you have heard me talk passionately about ChronoZoom over the past year, especially about our goal to bridge the gap between the sciences and humanities through this amazing open-source tool, which strives to capture the history of everything. I love the amazing breadth of these ambitions.

    Another thing I love about ChronoZoom is how it was created by the academic community, with assistance from Microsoft through Microsoft Research Connections. The academic part of the ChronoZoom team has had a very busy summer, delivering two releases independently, without any coaching from the Microsoft engineering team. I urge you to check out the new features and download the source code on Codeplex.

    I had a fabulous time working with our community leader, Roland Saekow of the University of California, Berkeley, as we presented ChronoZoom at the International Big History Association Conference at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. I’d like to hand this blog over to Roland, to tell you about a great tribute the team received this summer!

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

    Three years ago, I was a student at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), taking a course on the history of everything. The course was titled “Big History: Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity.” Taught by Professor Walter Alvarez, it covered everything from the Big Bang to modern man. One of the most challenging aspects of a Big History course is grasping the timescales– all 13.7 billion years. To meet this challenge, Professor Alvarez and I set out to create a dynamic, zoomable timeline. Three years later, after much hard work by incredible teams of people, ChronoZoom received the seventeenth annual Digital Education Achievement Award.

    Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Dirctor, e.Republic Inc. (center). 
    Chris Engberg (left) and Roland Saekow (right) accept the Digital Education Achievement award on behalf of the ChronoZoom team from the Center for Digital Education, represented by Kristy Fifelski, New Media Director, e.Republic Inc. (center). Image courtesy of the Center for Digital Education

    This award, which is presented by the Center for Digital Education (a division of e.Republic), recognizes the results of countless hours of planning, discussion, prototyping, and development—the collaborative efforts of dedicated and passionate individuals from all over the world. Our team includes software engineers, program managers, and project leaders at Microsoft Research Connections in Redmond, Washington, and students and professors at Moscow State University in Russia and at UC Berkeley. This dispersed team developed cutting-edge HTML5 code and implemented services on Windows Azure to create a rich, visual database full of historical events and timelines.

    Roland Saekow answers questions during the Digital Education Achievement Award panelOne aspect of the ChronoZoom project I find fascinating is that students—undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs—wrote nearly 80 percent of the code in today’s beta release. This award recognizes the successful collaboration between experienced veterans of the computer science world and students who have been inspired and mentored with great care and passion to do outstanding work.
     
    Work on ChronoZoom began as a dream—a hopeful vision into the future. Not only did the right people have to come together at the same moment, but they also had to learn to work together in near perfect synchronization to transform our dream into a reality.
     
    I am very proud of everyone on the team, and I look forward to our continued success. As an open-source project, we continue to grow our team, and take with us the experience in collaboration that Microsoft Research fostered. We invite you to join us on this journey to bring history to life.
     
     Roland Saekow, ChronoZoom Community Lead, University of California, Berkeley

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