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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

    Winner of the Jim Gray eScience Award Announced


    Phil Bourne accepts the 2010 Jim Gray eScience Award from Tony HeyOne of the high points of the annual eScience Workshop is the presentation of the Jim Gray Award to a researcher who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of data-intensive computing.  I'd like to say a bit more about Jim and why we've named an award after him, but first, here's the identity of this year's winner: Philip Bourne. Yes, the Bourne identity. 

    Now that you've stopped laughing, let me say just a few words about Phil and why he's this year's honoree.  Phil's contributions to open access in bioinformatics and computational biology are legion, and are exactly the sort of groundbreaking accomplishments in data-intensive science that we celebrate with the Jim Gray Award. In particular, Phil's role as the founding editor-in-chief of the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology has significantly advanced open access in mathematical and computational biology. Phil is also co-Director of the Protein Data Bank (PDB), whose vast store of data-most major journals and funding agencies now require scientists to submit relevant protein structure data to PDB-has become a key resource for the biology and genomics research communities. Phil also co-founded, a website that lets scientists upload videos, lectures and presentations covering a variety of disciplines. He is committed to the free dissemination of scientific knowledge through new open access models linking textual publications to data in order to preserve the scientific record. It is this work-on education, open access and open science-that so perfectly aligns with Jim Gray's vision.

    Like me, Phil is a transplant here in America.  He's originally from Australia, where he trained as a chemist. He's now a professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California, San Diego, so I have to admire his choice of American climates. He came to UCSD circuitously-leaving his native land for post-doc work at Sheffield University in the UK, and then arriving at Columbia University, where he became director of the Cancer Center Computing Facility.  

    Now, a few words about the award itself.  It was established in 2008 as a tribute to Jim Gray, a Technical Fellow for Microsoft Research who disappeared at sea in 2007. Jim was intrigued by the explosive growth of data in modern science. He viewed the accumulation, organization, and utilization of this data deluge as the next step in the evolution of scientific exploration, and was utterly dedicated to the idea that data-intensive computing would help solve some of society's greatest challenges.  So, in honor of the memory of Jim Gray, we celebrate the achievements of Phil Bourne and the other dedicated researchers who are striving daily to make Jim's predictions a reality. 

    --Tony Hey, corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New Technologies Help Healthcare and Environmental Sciences “Scale Up”


    Microsoft Research's 7th annual eScience Workshop is in full swing this week in lovely Berkeley, California. This event has brought together over 200 scientists from diverse fields (and diverse geographies), all united around their interest in using data-intensive science to advance their research. The theme of this year's workshop is "Scaling the Science," which is all about understanding processes at the molecular level and then scaling them up to larger systems-say, the human body or worldwide evaporation patterns.

    New technologies in the physical and biological sciences play a huge role in this scaling effort, and this year's eScience workshop showcases several. In particular, we are excited to be highlighting the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) and environmental research collaboration between Microsoft Research and UC Berkeley that leverages MODISAzure.

    MBF is a prime example of the power of using enormous datasets to advance research. It provides researchers with advanced tools to detect connections among a vast store of bioinformatics functions-such as finding a correlation between a particular human gene sequence and the likelihood of developing a certain disease. Researchers at Johnson & Johnson are already using MBF to build and mine advanced biological and chemical databases, helping them to make discoveries more rapidly. By taking advantage of MBF's store of pre-existing functions, the Johnson & Johnson scientists don't have to reinvent the wheel as they search for meaningful linkages among bioinformatics data. This is a huge timesaver-and a potential lifesaver. 

    MBF is part of the Microsoft Biology Initiative, and is available under an open source license. It is freely downloadable at  

    Another technology for data-intensive research leverages MODISAzure. The new technology takes images from MODIS, a NASA satellite that takes pictures of patches of the Earth, and then runs them through an image processing pipeline on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud-computing platform. Records from ground-based sensors are layered in, and then the mammoth dataset is combined via biophysical modeling. This research allows scientists from diverse disciplines to share data and algorithms, which enables them to better visualize and understand how ecosystems behave as climate change occurs.  By so doing, it takes earth science a giant step toward having systems that are present everywhere and running all the time. Using this research, scientists will be able to mine a vast array of data to better understand such environmental issues as the impact of specific sources of CO2 emissions on climate change in a given ecosystem. The project was created by Dennis Baldocchi, biometeorologist at U.C. Berkeley, Youngryel Ryu, biometerologist at Harvard University, and Catharine van Ingen, Microsoft eScience researcher.

    Tony Hey - corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Makes Its Presence Felt at GHC


    This week, technology-minded women from the across the United States have descend on Atlanta for the annual Grace Hopper Celebration (GHC) of Women in Computing, an annual conference that spotlights women’s contributions in computer science, information technology, research, and engineering. Named for the legendary computer scientist, U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, past GHCs have drawn 1,500 or more participants and dozens of corporate sponsors. The 2010 GHC runs from September 28 through October 2.

    I’m happy to report that Microsoft has a major presence at this year’s event, sending a total of 80 participants, including four VPs, among them Rick Rashid, senior vice president and head of Microsoft Research (MSR) worldwide. The other veep attendees are Roz Ho, corporate vice president for Premium Mobile Experiences; Bill Laing, corporate vice president of the Server and Cloud Division; and Ted Kummert, senior vice president of the Business Platform Division. Other senior executives attending include Rico Malvar, chief scientist and distinguished engineer for Microsoft Research.

    GHC always attracts a large number of students, offering fertile ground for corporate recruiters. So it’s no wonder that the Microsoft contingent boasts 23 recruiters, representing such diverse areas of the company as MSR, the Business Marketing Organization (BMO), and HR College Recruiting. Microsoft recruiters discovered the power of GHC last year, when they met many talented undergraduate and graduate women, and there’s no reason to believe that this year’s attendees will be any different. A bonus for recruiters and job seekers this year is the addition of the GHC Career Fair and Resume Clinic, on September 28.

    In addition to VPs and recruiters, Microsoft will be well represented by developers, many of whom are actively participating in scheduled workshops and presentations. These range from “Cloud Computing—Turning the World into One Supercomputer,” by Linda Apsley; to “Use Your Facebook Addiction for Good: How Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Can Help You Find a Job, Improve Your Business, and Collaborate Across Boundaries,” with Jennifer Marsman; and “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Career,” with Kate Kelly. All in all, “softies” have a role in 20 talks and presentations, reminding attendees that Microsoft remains one of the most exciting, vibrant employers in the tech world.
    In addition, Microsoft Research is the sponsor of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)
    Student Research Competition (SRC), which takes place on Wednesday, September 29, and recognizes the research accomplishments of women undergrads and grads. This provides yet one more example of the company’s overwhelming support of GHC and its mission to attract the best and brightest women to computing.
    —Jane Prey, senior research program manager for Microsoft External Research

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