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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.

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Treasured Chinese Painting Comes to Life Through Technology


    Explore how a treasured Chinese painting comes to life through technology

    As Chinese citizens celebrate Chinese Cultural Heritage Day, an annual event that takes place on the second Saturday in June, thousands will likely take a virtual walk along a river and a stroll through time, as they digitally explore one of their country’s most famous paintings. Courtesy of a collaborative effort among Microsoft Research Asia, the Beijing Palace Museum, and Peking University, visitors to the museum can experience a detailed, interactive digital representation of Along the River during the Qing-Ming Festival, one of China’s most treasured scroll paintings.

    The centuries-old, original ink-on-silk painting is only rarely displayed publicly; most of the time it’s safely stored for preservation. A scroll that measures more than 5 meters long and approximately 25 centimeters high when completely unfurled, it depicts a variety of panoramas of daily life in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127): from farmers in their fields, to boatmen and shopkeepers plying their trades, to government officials collecting taxes. Unlike traditional Western paintings, which have a single focus, Along the River during the Qing-Ming Festival employs the “moving focus” technique of Chinese scroll painting, which presents multiple focal points as the viewer works his or her way down the scroll.

    The three-dimensional (3-D) digital representation of the painting allows viewers to pan, zoom, and pause as they explore the richly detailed artwork by using a multi-touch screen. As viewers navigate the digital painting, the software uses their actions to calculate their viewpoint. Enhancing the experience, stereophonic audio has been added, with hundreds of voices creating dialogues that track to the actions in the painting. The scripts were created by experts from the Beijing Palace Museum, and the dialogue uses a dialect of Mandarin that reflects the speech of the Northern Song Dynasty. The audio also includes ambient sounds of nature and city life, linked to the corresponding place in the painting.

    This tour-de-force of software development and 3-D modeling was the work of Ying-Qing Xu, a lead researcher with Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, who developed the detailed, interactive, and multi-layered digital rendition of the painting by using annotated gigapixel images and HD View on a Microsoft Silverlight platform. This work is part of Microsoft Research’s eHeritage project, which facilitates collaborative initiatives between Microsoft Research and academia that use technology to preserve and display the cultural heritage of the Asia-Pacific region.

    The digital exhibition is open daily to the public for free, allowing visitors to experience a period of China in a way that can help them better understand ancient Chinese culture and heritage. “This is having a profound effect on museums globally and putting Beijing firmly on the map of cutting-edge development,” said Chui Hu, former director of information center at the Palace Museum in Beijing.

    —Xin Ma, University Relations Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia


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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Cast Your Spell on Spelling


    Speller ChallengeAs some of you may recall, in December 2010, Microsoft Research and Bing jointly announced the Speller Challenge—the first ever Microsoft Research-Bing contest—which enticed participants to grapple with the issue of spelling correction of web search queries. Participants vied to build a speller that would propose the most plausible spelling alternatives for each search query. As a follow-up, we now invite the community to submit papers to the upcoming Spelling Alteration for Web Search Workshop, which will take place on July 19, 2011, at the Microsoft Bing Headquarters in Bellevue, Washington.

    The Spelling Alteration for Web Search Workshop addresses the challenges of web-scale natural language processing, with a focus on search-query spelling correction. The workshop will include a prize ceremony for the winners of the Speller Challenge and will provide a forum for participants to exchange ideas and share experience, encouraging community discussions about future research directions for spelling alteration in web search. The workshop website provides details of the workshop, including information on data services and resources, submission formats, and deadlines.

    Although the workshop is not limited to the Speller Challenge participants, we encourage the inclusion of the on-demand evaluation web application (for those who submitted theirs before registration closed) and the referenced testing dataset in prospective workshop submissions. These inclusions will facilitate the comparison of different systems and approaches against the same benchmark. We also ask that submitted systems be made publicly accessible throughout the workshop, to enable live demonstrations.

    The deadline for workshop submissions is June 25, so time is of the essence. If you are interested, submit your paper online.

    Evelyne Viegas, Director of Semantic Computing, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Arming the Immune System Against HIV


    Learn how the immune system fights HIV-infected cells

    In the now decades-long battle against HIV and AIDS, researchers have been stymied by the virus’s ability to evade attacks by our immune system.

    Normally, a cell that is infected by a pathogen displays on its surface characteristic pieces of the pathogen peptides, known as epitopes, which are then recognized by the body’s immune system and trigger immune responses. HIV-infected cells produce these epitopes, but because HIV mutates so readily, so do the epitopes, leading to an ongoing struggle between our immune system and HIV. Therefore, scientists have been eager to gain a better understanding of the process of epitope production in HIV-infected individuals in the hope that such knowledge could lead to ways to beat HIV at this game.

    Recent work on the degradation of HIV proteins in infected cells has provided new insight into the process of HIV epitope presentation. This important research was conducted by a team at the Ragon Institute (a joint venture of Massachusetts General Hospital, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University), with contributions from Carl Kadie and myself at the eScience Group of Microsoft Research. The paper was published online in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) on May 9, 2011, and will appear in the June issue of JCI’s print publication.

    The Ragon team, which was led by Sylvie Le Gall and included Estibaliz Lazaro, Pamela Stamegna, Shao Chong Zhang, Pauline Gourdain, Nicole Y. Lai, Mei Zhang, and Sergio A. Martinez, examined the stability of short HIV peptides in the cytosol of human cells. They discovered that the stability of these HIV-derived peptides is extremely variable: some degraded within seconds, while others remained largely intact after an hour.

    The Ragon team observed that peptide stability is crucial to determining how much of the epitope will be displayed on the cell surface: the less peptide degradation in the cytosol, the more epitope will be present on the surface of an infected cell.

    Carl and I then performed a computational analysis of the residues of 166 tested HIV peptides, looking for specific biochemical features that characterized stable and unstable peptides. This enabled us to identify multiple motifs or patterns that allow us to predict how stable or unstable a given epitope will be. A prediction tool based on our findings is available online.

    So, what is the value in predicting epitope stability? To answer that question, we first need to know that some researchers believe HIV has both protective and non-protective epitopes. When infected cells are attacked by the immune system, protective epitopes force the virus to mutate into a version that will not survive, protecting an individual against chronic HIV infection. Non-protective epitopes, in contrast, do not induce a protective immune response. We also need to understand that epitopes are cross-reactive, which means that when the immune system learns to fight a specific epitope, it can also recognize and attack similar epitopes. Suppose, therefore, we know that HIV epitope X is protective but is also unstable. That means it won’t be produced in large quantities and thus will likely not be a successful target for an immune response. But if by using the results of our research we could identify an epitope X-prime that is cross-reactive to X but more stable, we could then develop a vaccine based on X-prime that would yield a strong immune response to both X-prime and X. This would enable the immune system to more effectively attack HIV-infected cells that express the X epitope and thereby weaken the virus.

    Our collaboration with the Ragon Institute has uncovered a path that will better help us present pieces of HIV to activate the immune system and thus hopefully design an effective vaccine against HIV. It has been extremely productive and rewarding.

    David Heckerman, Senior Director, eScience Research Group, Microsoft Research

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