Download Research Tools
We know our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) workforce is crucial to America’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness. Yet women are vastly underrepresented in these fields. The 2009 US Census reveals that although women fill close to half of all jobs in the country’s economy, they hold less than 25 percent of the STEM jobs. This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college-educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce. We simply must do more to expose young women to the opportunities in STEM fields.
Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, spoke at the TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle on December 1, 2012.
It was with this goal in mind that Microsoft Research Connections, Women in Bio Seattle Metro, and University of Washington’s Women in Informatics joined forces to support the December 1 TEDxWomenSouthLakeUnion event in Seattle. This was one of more than 100 local TEDxWomen gatherings held around the world on November 30 and December 1, all of them tied into the TEDxWomen 2012 event in Washington, DC, and together comprising an international call for the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism, and their artistry.
I was honored to serve as one of the co-hosts of this year’s Seattle event. While we streamed live talks from the TEDxWomen event in Washington, DC, we also pursued our local goal of attracting more women to STEM fields. To this end, we brought together top women in science, engineering, research, and technology from across the Puget Sound region. These STEM leaders influenced and networked with freshman and sophomore women from the University of Washington, encouraging them to pursue majors in STEM disciplines.
This year’s TEDxWomen theme was the Space Between, an exploration of what it means to live in a time of extremes, where the dialog is very much black and white even though we know our world is gray. Today’s conversations are typically framed in terms of binary extremes: men versus women, rich versus poor, liberal versus conservative, peace versus war, the haves versus the have-nots. But we know better: the world is a web of spectrums, not a linear standoff of polarities.
Our event dived into “the space between,” featuring two stellar local speakers whose talks focused on the space between our intellectual and emotional intelligence and the impact of digital technologies in this interstitial realm. Katie Davis, an assistant professor at the University of Washington Information School, discussed how digital media technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and smartphones have altered the contexts in which young people grow up. She focused on three key areas: young people's identity (experiences of themselves), intimacy (their relationships), and imagination (their world of ideas and creative expression). As Katie explained, these “three i’s” underlie what it means to be human, and they ultimately shape—and are shaped by—the society in which we live.
Our second speaker, Munmun De Choudhury, a postdoctoral researcher at Microsoft Research, discussed how emotions fundamentally direct our attention and responses to our environment, framing our attitudes and influencing our social relationships. As online social networking tools continue to gain traction among individuals, they provide a unique platform to understand human expression—whether thoughts, emotions, or opinions. Munmun described how an understanding of the rich landscape of emotions will help us better interpret the behavior of millions, while at the same time making individuals more “emotionally intelligent” by enabling them to reflect on their emotional experiences.
We also featured a bonus session: a screening of Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s Sundance documentary, Miss Representation, a powerful exploration of how the media’s many misrepresentations of women contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence. The film features interviews with leading politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists, and academics, including Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Rachel Maddow, and Gloria Steinem.
It was exciting to be part of a global event with a local spin, especially since the day was full of inspiration and activism. You could feel the energy of women ready to go out and make changes in the Puget Sound region and throughout the world. It was exhilarating to hear students, who had yet to declare their majors, express their desire to pursue majors in computer science and information science after the talks from Katie and Munmun.
The three co-hosting organizations have agreed to sponsor the event again next year. We look forward to an even bigger and better conference that lasts multiple days! Keep in touch and visit the TEDxSouthLakeUnionWomen webpage next autumn to learn how you can join the event.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections
Plant biologists in Brazil are working to develop a better understanding of tropical ecosystems—how they work and how they impact climate change, not only in the region, but worldwide. These researchers are dedicated and disciplined. They’re in the field from dawn to dusk, working through rain, wind, heat, and cold, applying all of their energy to understanding these complex ecosystems. This is intense observational work: they take copious notes and then, after grueling hours in the field, they return to their labs and flesh out their field notes in detail, striving to fully capture and make sense of what they observed. It all adds up to a long day that can take a toll on even the most committed researchers.
At the University of Campinas (better known as UNICAMP), computer science professors Ricardo Torres and Cecilia Baranauskas are exploring solutions that might help these overworked field researchers. The professors’ computer science students are creating environmental data-management apps that allow plant biologists to go to the field, observe the ecosystem, take notes by using digital devices, and then push that data to the cloud. (This work is an outgrowth of a project in e-phenology, which is supported by the Microsoft Research–FAPESP Institute for IT Research.)
Environmental data-management app for recording and sharing field observations
The environmental data-management apps should increase the precision and accuracy of the recorded data, eliminating the errors that often creep in during the transcription of handwritten notes. The ready availability of previously entered data will enable researchers in the field to easily compare new observations to past ones and to enter new information by updating a few spreadsheet cells. Moreover, by pushing the data to the cloud, it will be available to colleagues no matter where they are, enabling real-time collaboration between the researcher in the field and the team back in the lab.
With the goal of generating a variety of application ideas, the professors have split their computer science classes into multiple groups, each of which proposes a solution. Then they iterate. They talk with the plant biologists and accompany them to the field, in order to understand their needs. If all goes as planned, these students will devise applications that enable biologists to more fully record their observations in real time and preserve the record quickly, safely, and accessibly in the cloud. And what a nice convergence of high-tech computer science and shoe-leather biology that will be!
—Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
First to explain… no, there is no time. Let me sum up: you are a scientist with complex geospatial data visualization challenges. We at Microsoft Research have a solution for you and we’re enhancing this through the release of a software library called Narwhal. (We threw in some example applications as well.) The parent project is Layerscape and the geospatial stories are told by using the WorldWide Telescope visualization engine. The release of Narwhal is in line with our philosophy of “As long as we’re going to build some tools, let’s share them and save others having to re-invent.” Inconceivable! For more: read on!
Suppose you have some data that you’d like to look at… and it is complicated data. What do I mean by complicated? Perhaps you have a model of an electrical impulse travelling through a maze of 7,000 neurons. Or you have recovered the dive trajectories for the 43 Weddell seals you tagged last summer, or you just derived the magnetic field interactions between Jupiter and Callisto, or the Jaguar supercomputer has finally finished your solution for the thermodynamic structure of the Earth. Let’s run through the two questions that occur to the data visualizer—you—at a time like this: What format should my data be in? And how do I look at it?
WorldWide Telescope visualization of data on Puget Sound water flow
Unfortunately, there is as yet no single answer to these two questions; and to be fair, you probably already know what format your data is in (be it MATLAB, Comma Separated Value, NetCDF-CF, Microsoft Excel, or whatever). But because your data is complicated, you find it difficult to render and examine on your laptop. Well, we built WorldWide Telescope (WWT) to take advantage of your PC graphics card and now you can look at 500,000 data points as they unfold in time; watch this tour to get the idea. The ability to see the data is just the beginning; we are painfully aware that even though you can see the data, there are lots of other tasks to perform before it is useful, and that is why we built both the Layerscape website (to support content sharing) and the WorldWide Telescope Add-in for Excel (to help you import your data into WWT). All of this you can learn about at Layerscape.
So far, so good; but if you are really a technical programmer, you will see more potential here—more visualization power—than you can readily access by using Excel. In fact, you may want to be able to connect directly from your software—which helps make sense of your data—to WWT where that data will appear as pixels and lines and circles and polygons and moving sidewalks and drifting balloons and neural impulses and seal-dive trajectories and magnetic fields. Enter Narwhal: software that helps you organize your data and send it to WWT. Narwhal is in its first release, so it is not the ultimate solution, but it does take big jump in that direction. To see what sorts of things Narwhal can help you do, take a look at this video.
To wrap this up: we are certain that visualization is a key to understanding data, and that humans—and specifically, researchers—are increasingly good at deluging ourselves with massive, complex, hard-to-understand datasets. At Microsoft Research we are both happy and fortunate to get to work on related tools: Layerscape, WorldWide Telescope, and the WWT Add-in for Excel… and now Narwhal. We hope that they find their way to the scientists and educators who need them—and we will continue to refine them, so watch this blog for updates.
—Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections