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The world is becoming more urban. The movement of populations from rural to city life is nothing new in the developed countries of Europe and North America, but it has greatly accelerated in the rapidly developing countries of Asia. In China, for example, the percentage of urban dwellers has swelled from less than 30 percent in 1980 to over 50 percent—and growing—today. Given the rapid growth of cities in the developing world, the United Nations estimated that in 2008, for the first time in history, more than half of the world’s population resided in urban areas.Rapid urbanization poses challenges, as growing cities strive to deliver services, maintain a safe and healthful environment, and promote a vibrant economy. Meetings these challenges requires actions based on the collection, analysis, and modeling of reliable data, a need that has given rise to the field of urban informatics. Think of it as the big data of big cities.
Using big data to tackle big challenges cities face
Crunching big data is one of the strengths of cloud computing, and Windows Azure, the cloud-computing platform from Microsoft, offers tremendous potential in urban informatics. With this in mind, earlier this year Microsoft Research Asia issued an invitation for proposals that use Windows Azure to accelerate urban informatics, with the winning proposals receiving grants that support the research for at least a year. After evaluating 60 proposals from 34 Asian universities and institutions, the Microsoft Research Asia team has selected 25 projects for funding. The winning projects cover a broad spectrum of urban informatics research, from enhancing transportation, to mapping city noise, to preserving the privacy of urbanites and even tracking social happiness. The winning projects come from institutions throughout East Asia, including those in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Singapore. All results arising from the funded projects will be broadly available, either in the public domain or under a non-restrictive license that allows modification and redistribution without significant restrictions or conditions.We’re delighted to be funding these important studies, the results of which, we hope, will make city life more livable in years ahead.—Kangping Liu, Senior Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia Learn more
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A diagnosis of cancer can be particularly foreboding for any patient. However, new treatments become possible as we learn more about the disease, and the application of research techniques more commonly found in the social sciences are now providing new insights.Although medical investigators have been studying cancer for decades, only recently have they focused attention on micro RNAs (miRNAs), small RNA molecules that affect gene regulation and probably many other biological processes. Studies are now underway to learn if alterations in miRNA expression profiles can be used to identify drivers in both colorectal and pancreatic cancers.To study miRNA expression profiles and their relation to these cancers, researcher Tommaso Mazza in the Bioinformatics research unit at Italy’s Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza Research Hospital and his colleagues paired normal and tumor tissue samples from patients with colorectal or pancreatic cancer and determined the relative levels of miRNA expression in each sample. They then subjected the data to complex statistical analysis to determine which miRNAs appear to be affected in each cancer.Once the set of miRNAs affected in each cancer type was identified, the researchers applied analyses more commonly seen in the social sciences to construct and analyze the network of interactions between them. To do this, Dr. Mazza and his colleagues built a standalone application in C# utilizing the NodeXL network graph-analysis platform. Analyses of these graphs revealed that each of these cancers is associated with a unique pattern of changes specific to the tissue in which it occurs, and that certain key miRNAs could be tied to biochemical pathways in the cell, some previously known to be associated with cancer—but some that are new discoveries, to be validated in future research. This work also demonstrates the new insights that analytical techniques common in one area of science can bring when applied in a different field.
NodeXL includes an Excel template for easy manipulation of graph data.
NodeXL is a free, open-source template for Microsoft Excel that displays and analyzes graphs by utilizing a custom Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) control. It can be invaluable whenever you want to explore network graphs. NodeXL can import and export graphs in GraphML, Pajek, UCINET, and matrix formats and can be configured to import and analyze networks from social networking sites, email interactions from Microsoft Exchange, or graphs of web hyperlinks. If you would like to learn more, the NodeXL webpage has a programmer discussion forum and a method to download the latest class libraries.The research of Dr. Mazza and his colleagues on miRNA expression profiles was published in PLOS ONE (an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication). You can access the paper on the PLOS website. —Simon Mercer, Director of Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
Preserving biodiversity, understanding animals’ social interactions, and predicting droughts: these are all key research areas for ecologists and environmental scientists. And like so many areas of research these days, they are all data intensive and thus potential beneficiaries of cloud computing.
With that in mind, we are delighted to be hosting a webinar on Tuesday, December 17, 2013, at 16:00 GMT, in which Tanya Berger-Wolf of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Cristian Bonacic and Hugo Neyem of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile will discuss how to use Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, to expand and accelerate environmental research.
Tanya will describe her upcoming research in Kenya, where she will study the social interactions of zebras. She’ll be gathering data from multiple sources, everything from drones and GPS trackers to camera traps and traditional sightings. The task of bringing all this field data together is a perfect fit for the cloud. So Tanya is developing an end-to-end system that goes from collecting data in Africa, feeding it into models, and sharing the results—all via Windows Azure.
LiveANDES: Latin American Researchers Use Data to Raise Awareness, Protect Species
Cristian and Hugo will discuss how they are taking LiveANDES, a tool designed to promote wildlife conservation in Chile, from a bare metal Microsoft SQL Server installation onto Windows Azure. They will highlight how the cloud can facilitate the exchange of wildlife data among conservation professionals, government officials, and amateur naturalists. Their project will play a critical role in helping the conservation community keep track of some 15,000 new plant and animal species discovered every year in the region.Please join us online to see how Windows Azure is helping environmental scientists work together, and to learn how you, too, might exploit the cloud to make your research easier, faster, and more scalable. Also, become part of the Windows Azure for Research discussions on our LinkedIn group page and on Twitter via @azure4research and #azureresearch.—Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more