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July, 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.

July, 2013

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    Inspiring girls about computing

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    Participants in Girls Gather for Computer Science learn about TouchDevelop from Microsoft Senior Research Program Manager Arjmand Samuel.Today, women earn more than half of all undergraduate degrees in U.S. colleges and universities. But according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), female students remain woefully underrepresented in computer science programs, earning only 18 percent of the undergraduate computer science degrees awarded in 2011. And among that year’s incoming freshman, a mere 0.3 per cent of the women—that’s right, just three-tenths of a percent—named computer science as their intended major!

    In large measure, the shortage of women who are studying computer science at the post-secondary level is the result of insufficient exposure to computing during their K-12 schooling. It is vital to introduce girls to the wonders of computing before they’ve formed an adolescent aversion to the field, viewing it as “a boy thing.”

    That’s why I’m so pleased that Microsoft Research played a major role in this summer’s Girls Gather for Computer Science (G2CS) camp, a four-week summer day camp for middle-school girls. Sponsored by the Pacific University of Oregon, the camp exposes seventh- and eighth-grade girls to computing through hands-on activities, socializing, and field trips to see women working in such high-tech fields as software development, digital media design, and biotechnology.

    Microsoft researcher Jessica Miller explains to Girls Gather for Computer Science campers how to make dynamic images by using BLINK Cliplets.On Thursday, June 27, Microsoft Research Connections hosted 44 campers and their chaperones. Microsoft researchers gave generously of their time, presenting some seriously cool talks on topics that ranged from phones in space, to programing by using TouchDevelop, to making dynamic images via Cliplets, and even wearing your thoughts on your clothes through the Printing Dress. The Xbox folks also got in on the action, showing the girls how games are tested for usability.

    The girls came away enthused and determined to delve deeper into computing and information science, while the experience revitalized our commitment at Microsoft Research to encourage women to pursue computer science careers. After all, how can we afford not to tap into the creativity and intellectual energy of half of our population?

    —Lori Ada Kilty, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Lab of Things—the new wave of research-device platforms

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    Lab of ThingsAre you a researcher who spends a lot of time deploying field studies in homes and other buildings where human activity takes place—studies that often involve both custom-built and off-the-shelf sensors and devices? Do you face challenges in combining these varying devices together in one experiment? Do you collect data from dozens to hundreds of experiment sites? Do your experiments require frequent updating with fixes or new extensions? And finally, do you wish you could share your infrastructure and subjects with others, so that you can conduct collaborative experiments? The Lab of Things (LoT) provides the infrastructure, software, and services that make all of these things possible.
     
    So what is the LoT? It is a research-device platform based on Microsoft Research’s HomeOS system. The LoT allows virtually any type of device to be interconnected to the infrastructure. It boasts an open-driver model that lets you write a driver in the event that your device is not supported. You can also choose to share your new driver with the research community so others can benefit from your work. 

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    The LoT also comes with a set of cloud services that support deployment of experiments at scale. One of the services is the LoT monitoring portal, which provides near real-time status of all the sites in your study. The update service allows you to configure your experiments so that you receive all of your field-study data in one convenient location in the cloud. It also facilitates on-the-fly updates to experiments, drivers, and any other component of the infrastructure, without your having to visit the site physically.
     
    Through all of these features, the LoT lets you interconnect devices and scale up your field studies in diverse experiment locations. With the LoT, you will spend a LOT more of your research time and budget where it is meant to be spent: conducting actual experiments, rather than developing software infrastructure.
     
    Visit lab-of-things.com and get started today!

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Joint research center reaches new heights for environmental sciences

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    Joint research center reaches new heights for environmental sciences

    I enjoy being able to work in technology because it has the potential for great impact in a range of research areas. But, more specifically, I have the privilege to work with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil to achieve that goal. Together, Microsoft Research and FAPESP created a joint research center in 2006—the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research—that has been going strong ever since.

    The Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research supports high-quality fundamental research in information and communication technologies. In the beginning, the center focused on addressing social and economic development needs in the São Paulo region. However, in recent years, the research has focused primarily on learning about the environment by using advanced technologies.

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    Fueling the Future: FAPESP

    I am very pleased to announce that the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research recently concluded its sixth request for proposal (RFP) cycle by selecting two winning proposals in the area of environmental sciences.

    The objective of the sixth RFP was to explore the application of computing science to the challenges of basic research in areas related to global climate change and the environmental sciences. Researchers worldwide acknowledge that technology can provide powerful tools for environmental research, benefiting society and aiding in the planet’s sustainability. As such, this request for proposals focused on turning data into knowledge.
    Respondents had the option of developing their own technology application or using an existing technology that was developed by Microsoft Research (for example, research accelerators that can be used to manage, publish, analyze, or visualize a research project, or new tools for science).

    The two winning proposals from the submissions received are:

    Towards an Understanding of Tipping Points within Tropical South American Biomes, submitted by Principal Investigator Ricardo Torres of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)

    Combining New Technologies to Monitor Phenology from Leaves to Ecosystems, submitted by Principal Investigator Patrícia Morellato of the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)

    Notably, Morellato’s project is a follow-up to the recently concluded e-Phenology project, which was selected under the fourth Microsoft Research-FAPESP RFP. The research team also submitted a proposal to the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science (CEES) team and was awarded with a set of Mataki sensors to monitor small animals in the location where they are already monitoring the vegetation. The goal of that project is to explore correlations between the vegetation and small animals’ behavior and to gather a more complete understanding of how the ecosystem functions.

    Congratulations to both the UNICAMP and UNESP teams on their winning submissions! I look forward to seeing the results of their research.

    —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Project Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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