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In a blog last week, I alluded to an important upcoming announcement. Well, here it is: I am pleased to announce that our second annual International Women’s Hackathon will take place on university campuses around the globe from April 24 to 27, 2014. Last year’s event spanned 14 campuses in seven countries, with more than 600 university women participating. We’re anticipating even bigger numbers this year!
We launched the International Women’s Hackathon to encourage, support, and retain women pursuing the computer sciences at the university level. This event, largely promoted by word-of-mouth, empowers young women to become leaders in computer science, informatics, and electrical engineering. By providing a fun and safe environment in which to explore computing, the hackathon encourages and supports young university women around the world, preparing them to create technology innovations that will help meet worldwide challenges in such areas as improving healthcare, protecting the environment, and upgrading manufacturing. The presence of women in technology is essential to innovation. When confronted with a problem, we each encode our perspectives and then apply our particular heuristics to explore new and better resolutions. Diverse teams often outperform homogeneous teams (even those composed of high-achieving individuals), because diversity of perspective and problem-solving approach trumps individual ability. Research has identified the diversity of work teams as one of the key influences in the innovation process—and without question, a diverse team needs women. As I travel around campuses, I hear the same concerns repeatedly from women in computer science courses:
This is why the International Women’s Hackathon is so important. It provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches. To ensure that this year’s hackathon meets the needs of university women, we have enlisted the help of recent winners of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing. These gifted young women have helped us organize the challenges, reassess the rules and regulations, and upgrade the toolkit. So here’s a big thank you to the leads and planning committee members: Leads:
The hackathon provides an opportunity for female students to demonstrate their technical chops and unique problem-solving approaches.
We are excited to have this year’s challenges sponsored by the following nonprofits: UN Women, Hindsight Group, Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, and Teens Against Distracted Driving. Hackathon participants will design a software application that meets one of two challenges: (1) increase women’s participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors, or (2) put a halt to texting while driving. I am also pleased to announce our partnership with the USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. We will be front and center during the festival, with women students from local universities hacking live on stage while we connect via Skype to the hackathon events taking place on university campuses all over the world. I will announce more information about the hackathon in January, including details on special speakers and unique events, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I hope that many of you will take advantage of this opportunity: you can organize teams and register for the event now.—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research ConnectionsLearn more
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