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July, 2013

Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach 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

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Inspiring girls about computing


    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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    Summit explores the promise of computing


    Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, addresses the participants at Faculty  Summit 2013.The Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2013—the fourteenth edition of this annual event—is now history, but I’m still catching my breath after two days of meeting and sharing ideas with some of the world’s foremost computer scientists. In attendance were more than 400 representatives of academic institutions from more than 29 countries around the world, along with researchers from Microsoft Research’s 13 worldwide labs—all drawn by the common purpose of exploring the power of computing to solve real-world problems.

    The cloud, machine learning, big data, and, of course, software engineering, were key topics of the summit. However, as I mentioned in my opening remarks at the event, the overarching idea is to put technological resources together to reach informed, intelligent decisions that can help solve critical problems. With the cloud providing the storage and processing power, machine learning providing the analytical tools, and the deluge of data, computer science researchers have the capacity to make an impact in healthcare, environmental protection, criminal justice, education—virtually every arena of the world’s challenges.

    The opening keynote by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was an extended Q&A, with Bill answering question after question from the onsite audience and online viewers. This set just the right tone, marking the summit as a forum for interactive, wide-ranging discussions about the promise of technology as a change agent.

    Opening keynote: Innovation & Opportunity—
    the Contribution of Computing to Improving Our World

    The open and honest discussion continued throughout the two days, from formal breakout sessions devoted to such topics as gene sequencing, quantum computing, prediction markets, spam marketing, and visual recognition, to informal meetings in the corridors and lounges throughout the Microsoft Conference Center. You couldn’t swing a cat —Schrodinger’s or otherwise—without hitting a cluster of experts debating some aspect of modern computing and its potential.

    In addition to Bill Gates’ opening keynote, we heard powerful, thought-provoking addresses from Doug Burger, director of client and cloud applications at Microsoft, who challenged us to take advantage of changes in the hardware ecosystem; vice presidents Peter Lee and Jeannette Wing, the new co-leaders of Microsoft Research, who gave us their vision of the rewards of basic research; and Clay Shirky, the prominent author and professor at New York University, who opened our minds to the power of new media and the intrinsic “messiness” created by online crowds.

    In his opening keynote, Bill Gates answered questions from the onsite audience as well as online viewers.
    In his opening keynote, Bill Gates answered questions from the onsite audience
    as well as online viewers.

    A gathering like this is a great opportunity for learning, but even those who were not there could share at least some of the experience through the live streaming webcast that took place during the first day of the summit. This program not only captured the day’s opening and closing addresses, it took full advantage of the high-powered assemblage by streaming live interviews with world-class experts on topics as varied as crisis informatics, cancer therapy, and automated sign language interpretation.
    If you missed the live webcast, don’t worry. The entire program is available on demand. Watch the segments that we streamed live on our Virtual Faculty Summit page and find links to the individual sessions (as well as the presenters’ slides) on our Agenda page. So click on over and get ready to be inspired, just as I was by seeing the computer science community at its best.

    Tony Hey, Vice President, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Joint research center reaches new heights for environmental sciences


    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.

    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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