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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New Award Honors Significance of Open, Available Data


    For several years, Microsoft External Research has been a proud sponsor of the BioMed Central Research Awards. The awards honor excellence in an approach to publishing known as "open access research," whereby content is available not only to subscribers but also to anyone online.

    This year, as a result of  productive discussions with BioMed Central's managing director, Matthew Cockerill, the increasingly significant role data plays in research has been recognized with the first BioMed Central Open Data Award, which was presented last night to Yoosook Lee for her article Ecological and genetic relationships of the Forest-M form among chromosomes and molecular forms of the malaria vector Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto. Since 2007, Lee has been a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

    Selecting Lee's article for the award, which includes a $5,000 prize, was determined in large part by the Panton Principles, which were unveiled in February 2010. The Panton Principles offer guidance for those who want to make data related to their published science free of financial, legal, and technical barriers. The Principles were put to use by the judges as guidelines that they were able to use to help them rate, rank, and reward authors for how openly they were sharing their data with others.  (One of the judges, Cameron Neylon, summarizes the judging process in this blog entry.)

    The term "open data" is literal: It calls for the data supporting research to be open and available to all readers. Making data open and available upon publication has become increasingly popular over the past 15 years and is, in fact, mandated by many in the global research community. While the trend toward making data available is a logical step in the evolution of scholarly communication, it is still in an early stage of incubation. Therefore, it's a special honor for Microsoft External Research to support a practice that will encourage innovation and discovery both within and across domains.

    From all of us at Microsoft External Research, congratulations to Yoosook Lee as well as the other winners of this year's BioMed Central Research Awards.

    Lee Dirks, director, Education & Scholarly Communications, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Stanford Students Take to the Cloud


    In conducting research, we often look to the past for answers. Today, at Stanford University, I had the opportunity to look to the future. This morning I watched four excellent presentations delivered by the teams of students enrolled in CS210, Project-Based Computer Science Innovation & Development; and this afternoon, I attended the class' fair, modeled after a trade show, where I was able to delve more deeply into each of the projects. If the inquisitiveness, passion and determination of the students I met today are any indication, the future of our profession is in very good hands.

    The goal of CS210 is to provide computer science students with an opportunity to collaborate on a real-world project provided by a corporate partner. The challenge of the project Microsoft External Research handed over to the students was to make satellite data more accessible to environmental scientists. Specifically, Team Nimbus was tasked with reducing the costs, time and complexity associated with managing satellite images while at the same time improving the reliability of those images, which are often difficult to manipulate on a desktop.

    The result of the team's work is CloudLab, which utilizes the Windows Azure platform to remove the heaviest work from the desktop and put it in the cloud, where there is far more computing power and accessibility. During the development of CloudLab, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory served as the team's customers. For the students in the class, which was taught by Jay Borenstein, the benefits go far beyond a passing grade. Throughout the class, students gained practical insight into many applied aspects of computer science, such as source control and agile programming methodologies. By working on a real project with the potential to have an impact on industry, the students became better informed about what they may wish to pursue professionally.

    Beyond the experience gained by the students, Stanford will use its up-close view of what's important throughout the industry to continue refining its academic offerings. For me, this collaboration effort provided the chance to get to know people whose names I'm confident will one day be familiar to us all. Finally, and most importantly, the experience is a compelling reminder, for all of us throughout the global research community, of how important it is to look at our work and all of its challenges through the perspectives of others as often as possible.  

    Dan Fay, director, Earth, Energy, and Environment, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Software Engineering Innovation Foundation Announces Awards


    "Software Engineering!? What do I know of computers and software?" So said Archbishop Tutu as he welcomed 700 computer scientists to the 32nd annual International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), held the first week of May in Cape Town, South Africa. The venerable icon, Nobel prize winner and champion of human rights went on to add "I am not so old or disconnected from the modern world that I don't realise that computers and software permeate every aspect of our modern lives and ... that technology can be enabling and can play a crucial role in raising educational standards, in improving the quality of life and in helping commerce and industry." It is these three aspects - education, life and industry - that the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF) Awards were set up to address. And it was indeed fitting that they were presented at the ICSE conference where several of the 12 recipients were present.

    Watch the introduction at ICSE from Archbishop Tutu


    The SEIF Awards are a joint initiative between the Computer Science team of Microsoft External Research, the Research in Software Engineering Group (RiSE) and the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 team. Microsoft aimed to partner with the worldwide academic community to advance the tools and technologies that are used in and with Visual Studio 2010. A total of 85 submissions were received and after a rigorous evaluation process, we chose 12 projects to support for a year. In May 2011, the community will get together at ICSE 2011 in Hawaii for a workshop to share the results of their work. The submitted projects came from all over the world. Of the winning projects, four were from North America, three each from Europe and South America and one each from China and India.  

    A strong focus of the work from RiSE is detecting, correcting and preventing bugs in code. Sunghun Kim of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology proposes to first integrate a state-of-the-art bug prediction algorithm, called Change Classification, into Visual Studio 2010, so that developers will be quickly notified (using colored underlines) about code areas that are predicted to be buggy. Kim describes his method as seeming like a guardian angel looking over your shoulder, pointing out bugs and suggesting plausible fixes. 


    From left: Jane Prey (Director of Gender Diversity, MSR), Yuriy Brun and Reid Holmes (representing David Notkin), Alessandro Orso, Nachi Nagappan (MSR), Gail Murphy, Stefano Tonetta, Wolfram Schulte (Research Area Manager, RiSE Group), Karin Breitman, Guido de Caso (with Uchitel), Sebastien Uchitel

    Closer to home, at the University of Washington, David Notkin and his students plan to explore the role speculation can play in software development. Their interest in speculation has been piqued both by the potential availability of using "cycles for quality" (e.g., from multi-core) and also by the need for breakthroughs in how environments augment the abilities of developers. Their goal is to warn a developer, as early as possible, that changes in code will conflict with the work of another developer on their team. By limiting or avoiding these conflicts, they hope to decrease the amount of time spent fixing "broken" builds, enabling developers to focus more directly on their tasks rather than source-control management (SCM) problems. Implementing the approach will involve combining a simplified abstract model of SCM systems to derive a common interface that can manage the kinds of conflicts they would like to detect, and building specific SCM connectors (e.g., for Microsoft's Team Foundation Server, or  CodePlex's Mercurial source control repository) that can interact with the variety of SCM systems used by real projects. Notkin and his students aim to build a user interface specifically for Visual Studio 2010, that can be used to alert developers when their actions conflict with other development trees.

    In the education space, Pankaj Jalote at IIIT-D in Delhi is of the opinion that an introductory course in software engineering in a computer science program remains one of the hardest subjects to teach. While focusing on concepts and techniques is essential, there is often not sufficient time for the tools to be given the appropriate amount of attention. Real software engineering is now very tool intensive and a large set of tools is needed to cover the different aspects of the software development lifecycle - including requirements modeling, requirements documentation, project planning, design, coding related, code management and those related to testing. Generally a host of different tools might be used in a project, coming from a variety of sources. This project will develop a prototype course done almost fully within Visual Studio 2010, with its existing rich tool set, while also integrating other tools such as spreadsheets. Jalote maintains that using Visual Studio 2010 can have a major impact on the teaching: besides mastering the concepts and techniques, students will also learn through the use of a proper environment and tools how software is really developed, and will gain skills that are highly desired by the industry.

    These are just some of the projects for 2010/11. For a full list of projects, as well as announcements for SEIF II stay tuned to our website and blog.

    Judith Bishop, director, Computer Science, Microsoft External Research

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