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June, 2013

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.

June, 2013

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Research gives promising computer science faculty a boost

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    The time for new faculty members to take risks in research is early in their careers. However, early-career realities often get in the way. As any tenure-track academic knows, the first few years of one’s career can be a seemingly endless process of writing grant proposals. The Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships liberate promising young researchers from this task, allowing them the freedom to conduct research to advance computer science in bold new directions with minimal distractions.

    Meet the winners of the 2013 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships

    Each year since 2005, we’ve awarded the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships to innovative and exceptionally talented, early-career faculty members from a variety of research institutions. The recently announced 2013 fellowships continue this tradition of supporting the brightest young academics in the field of computer science to pursue their visions and make an impact—a tangible manifestation of our commitment to collaborating with the scholarly community to use computing to solve global problems.

    The seven 2013 Faculty Fellows were selected from four regions: (1) Latin America and the Caribbean; (2) Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; (3) the United States and Canada; and (4) Australia and New Zealand. All seven fellows are pursuing breakthrough, high-impact research that has the potential to help alleviate some of today’s most challenging problems. For example:

    • Michael Schapira, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is conducting research to design practical Internet protocols that will improve web performance and security by providing “provable guarantees” for such attributes as routing and traffic management.
    • Animashree Anandkumar, assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, is applying large-scale machine learning and high-dimensional statistics to various problems in social networking and computational biology.
    • Monica Tentori, assistant professor at Mexico’s Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education (CICESE), is researching human-computer interactions and ubiquitous computing, particularly on the design, development, and evaluation of natural user interfaces and self-reflection capture tools—work that helps support the needs of urban residents, hospital workers, and the elderly.

    Joining Michael, Animashree, and Monica are:

    • Ryan Williams, assistant professor at Stanford University, whose research focuses on constructing algorithms that solve computational problems more efficiently
    • Ruslan Salakhutdinov, assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, whose interests lie in artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and large-scale optimization.
    • Katrina Ligett, assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, who is developing theoretical tools to address problems in data privacy and to understand individual incentives in complex settings
    • Michael Milford, senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, whose research seeks to understand how robots and biological systems map and navigate the world

    With these awards, the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship program now has provided support to 59 academic investigators whose exceptional talent for research and innovation in computer science identifies them as emerging leaders in their fields. As the computer industry’s leading research laboratory, we are committed to creating opportunities for researchers around the world to make an impact, and we are delighted to provide fellowships to advance the work of promising young faculty members.

    Jaime Puente, Director, Chair of Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship Program, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Open-source lab launches in Australia

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    On June 11, 2013, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) launched the Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab at the university’s new Science and Engineering Center in the heart of Brisbane. This exciting venture will enable students to create software solutions for real-world problems—through emerging projects, such as Glycogen (a learning environment built for the One Laptop per Child initiative); through hackathons built around the D3.js visualization libraries, making open data in biology and healthcare visible to all; and through global competitions such as QUT’s Change the World series and Microsoft Imagine Cup.

    The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus
    The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus

    The launch represents the culmination of hard work by QUT, along with support from Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Australian subsidiary, Red Hat Asia Pacific, and Technology One, a Brisbane-based enterprise software company. Each of these partners sees value in working cooperatively on open-source projects, understanding the model of community driven projects operating hand-in-hand with commercial services and products. The launch activities included a keynote address by Pia Waugh, a veteran of the Australian open-source community and now a leading figure in such open-government initiatives as GovHack.

    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab will take a leading role in the .NET Bio project, an open-source library of common bioinformatics functions that simplifies the creation of life-science applications for the Windows platform. In fact, QUT students are already authoring extensions to the library’s core algorithms and developing new pattern-matching components that will allow complex, structured searches across genomes. Other students are working to link .NET Bio parsing and search capabilities to open-visualization tools, allowing better understanding of the structure of genomes and their regulatory systems.

    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.
    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.

    In one key project under development, QUT students are building a new toolset on top of .NET Bio to simplify population studies in human disease. The new tools will support the analysis of samples from multiple individuals by using next-generation sequencing techniques. These approaches, a variant of restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (better known as RADseq), allow identification of subtle genomic differences that are important markers of diseases. The .NET Bio library will provide an integrated platform for these analyses, with the important additional benefit of allowing direct interaction with tools such as Microsoft Excel, enabling researchers to capture and further analyze results in a familiar environment.

    Microsoft Research is pleased to support QUT’s exciting open-source venture, and we will be looking for great things to emerge from Down Under!

    Simon Mercer, Director, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Summit promotes women’s role in computing

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    The annual NCWIT Summit brings together committed and passionate minds across industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, united by the goal of increasing the meaningful participation of women in computing. The 2013 event, which took place in Tucson, Arizona, in late May, was no exception, with insightful presentations, hands-on workshops, and great networking opportunities, all designed to foster women’s growing role in IT and computer science.

    Microsoft was pleased to participate in the opening session of the summit, with Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, announcing the company’s commitment to four more years of sponsored partnership with NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology). Tony stressed that diversity, including gender diversity, helps drive innovation and is critical to advances in computing. He highlighted the very real and personal aspects of this topic through the story of Emily Peed-Brown, who received the benefit of NCWIT’s Aspirations in Computing Talent Development Initiative and is now utilizing her passion to help middle-school girls become involved in the computer sciences.

    The NCWIT Academic Alliance supports female students, from their first studies in technology through their collegiate degrees
    The NCWIT Academic Alliance supports female students, from their first studies in technology through their collegiate degrees.

    During the general sessions and open receptions, attendees came together to learn from each other, showcase successes, discuss the latest research, and be inspired to make an even greater commitment to driving change through computer science. With the looming talent shortage for US technical jobs, the continued challenge of retaining and growing the number of women in technology leadership, and the low percentage of young women receiving computing and information sciences degrees (just 18 percent), there is work to be done.

    The heart of the NCWIT organization resides in its learning communities, called Alliances. The K-12 and Academic Alliances, for example, support young female students, from their first studies in technology through their collegiate degrees, while the Workforce and Affinity Alliances focus on the retention and advancement of women in computing careers. Successes by these groups on both ends are cause for celebration. For example, the K-12 Alliance announced the launch of a Spanish-language microsite to bring the NCWIT message and resources to Spanish-speaking parents and influencers, and the Workforce Alliance launched the results of their last year’s efforts with the publication of Male Advocates and Allies: Promoting Gender Diversity in Technology Workplaces.

    The NCWIT Pacesetters committed to a new project aimed at growing girls’ awareness of the many career opportunities in the computing and IT fields.
    The NCWIT Pacesetters committed to a new project aimed at growing girls’ awareness of the many career opportunities in the computing and IT fields.

    A subset of members, including Microsoft, participate in a special NCWIT program called Pacesetters, where participating technical companies and academic institutions commit to increasing the number of women in their organizations. In a cross-industry cohort, they also work together on a common project. The first cohort created and launched the successful and ongoing Sit With Me campaign, a national advocacy campaign that provides a platform for advancing NCWIT’s mission. At this year’s NCWIT Summit, the newly formed cohort committed to a new project aimed at growing girls’ awareness of the numerous career opportunities and benefits that are available in the computing and IT fields.

    As informative and interesting as the general sessions were, and as much as we shared and learned in the Alliance meetings, nothing topped the Aspirations in Computing Awards ceremony. The spark in the eyes of the honored high school girls ignited something in all of us. These girls are now part of a strong community of thousands of young women who are ready to embark upon the work and use their keen minds to make their mark in information technology fields. They remind us all of the NCWIT mission. It is not just about the numbers—it’s about the next wave of technical innovators who will shape our world, and the importance of women being part of this future.

    —Dalene King, Global Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Microsoft

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