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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

    Monitoring the Brazilian Rainforest with a Sensor Network

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    The view from one of the research towers looking out into the Serra do Mar state park. From up here, a rich, diverse rainforest greets scientists as far as the eye can see. Yet only about eight percent of the original Atlantic rainforest survives today.

    Last week, at the Microsoft Research sixth annual Latin American Faculty Summit in Guaruja, Brazil, Rob Fatland, program manager with Microsoft Research, and Humberto da Rocha, professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the Universidade de São Paulo, led an intriguing presentation about their Atlantic Rainforest Micrometeorology Sensor Network Pilot Study. It’s a study that took place a mere 130 miles from where the Faculty Summit was held—a local project that could have broad environmental impact worldwide.

    It all began about a year and a half ago when representatives from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) asked Microsoft Research for assistance in developing a senor network with capabilities of operating under rainforest conditions.  The inquiry led  us to reach out to our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, where a wireless sensor network program called Life Under Your Feet was previously developed, in collaboration with Microsoft Research, for soil-ecology research. So in October 2008, Microsoft Research brought the necessary experts and organizations together and this rainforest study was born.

    The project was guided by three broad goals: first, to create a scientifically valid data set; second, to successfully engineer the project so that the technology could function fully in settings as challenging as a rainforest; and third, to develop a system that can serve as a model and be replicated in other research.

     

     

    The Atlantic rainforest study site includes this 60-meter tower as well as five additional smaller towers, which are used for environmental research.

    As a result of this close collaboration between researchers and scientists at Microsoft Research, Johns Hopkins University, and Universidad de São Paulo, the sensor network was deployed for four weeks in the rainforest, where it captured data every 30 seconds on the temperature, humidity and light throughout the canopy. In addition, a weather station recorded the staples of meteorology: rainfall, wind conditions and barometric pressure.

    The result was that the team gathered an incredibly large and accurate data set that scientists are now analyzing to help them understand rainforest ecosystems. Additionally, the technology we’ve used in this study could be applied to a variety of situations across the globe, such as monitoring receding glaciers in the Arctic or measuring seismic activity for better earthquake predictions. 

     

    Researcher Helber DeFreitas is installing a sensor mote. The mote (short for remote device) has four sensors attached to measure temperature, water vapor, and solar radiation. Innovative “duty cycling” technology from Johns Hopkins University will allow the devices to collect measurements for two seconds every 30 seconds and then power down to save battery life.

    As researchers, we understand that our planet and our climate are undergoing change. Our challenge is that there’s still so much science can’t tell us—so many details that aren’t understood due to lack of data. This Atlantic rainforest project is one example of science and technology working together to understand a complex ecosystem.

    Regardless of where we live, this type of research is a benefit for us all. For more information and to see a video of the Atlantic rainforest research site, you can visit our Atlantic Rainforest project page.

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

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Greetings from Brazil: Microsoft Research and FAPESP Open 2010 Latin American Faculty Summit

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    Guarujá, Brasil 

    Impactful research and discovery enhances the quality of life across our planet. That’s one of the reasons I am honored to chair Microsoft Research’s sixth annual Latin American Faculty Summit in Guarujá, Brazil. The summit is a great example of Microsoft Research’s commitment to working with universities around the world, contributing to regional research agendas and increasing research capacity. The summit showcases meaningful ways in which Microsoft and its researchers are combining science and technology to deliver on the event’s theme, Computing: Making the Difference.

     

    During the summit, more than 200 academic leaders from around the world and representatives from multilateral and governmental organizations are coming together to share their approaches on addressing important challenges. Their areas of focus and expertise include health and wellbeing; earth, energy and environment; and astronomy.

     

    The spirit of collaboration has been at the heart of this year’s summit from its inception. Early on, a partnership was developed by Microsoft Research with the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation), to sponsor the summit. FAPESP was founded in 1962 as an independent public foundation whose mission is to foster research, scientific, and technological development in the state of Sao Paulo. In April 2007, Microsoft Research and FAPESP created the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research. The institute establishes a network of world-class researchers able to expand technological capabilities in support of social and economic needs in Brazil.

     

    While this year’s summit officially opened this morning, the learning began yesterday, with pre-summit tutorials, which attracted capacity crowds. Morning tutorials focused on tools that support e-research, providing attendees a deep view into freely available tools offered by Microsoft External Research and a demonstration of how they can supplement and enhance e-research. Tools highlighted included Zentity, a research-output repository platform, and the recently launched Chemistry Add-in for Word. Afternoon tutorials will focus on health-and-wellbeing projects from Microsoft External Research, specifically the Microsoft Biology Foundation, how it can be used to build scientific applications, and how it can be integrated with existing Microsoft applications.

     

    Much like the rainforests in Brazil, to which researchers of many diverse fields flock from around the world, the LATAM Faculty Summit features an agenda that is truly interdisciplinary. The summit opened this morning with a keynote speech by Tony Hey, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of External Research, who discussed the coupling of scientific research and cloud computing—and its implications for the global research community. Today attendees will have the opportunity to learn about cutting edge research in both healthcare and environment, with talks on Global Climate Modeling and Fighting HIV with Machine Learning. Tomorrow, attendees will choose from an impressive array of sessions organized along two research tracks: computer-science and computing in e-science.

     

    This summit is more than a job for me; it’s something I care about deeply. The gathering of researchers from different disciplines across the region sends a strong signal that we’re building the critical mass necessary to create new opportunities for scientific discoveries. When there’s solid collaboration under way, tangible results will be achieved. If today’s sessions are a barometer of that progress, we’re off to a good start.

     

    Jaime Puente, director for External Research, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft’s External Research Symposium: Where Diversity Accelerates Discovery

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    At the heart of all great research there are two key components: learning and collaboration. Last month, at Microsoft’s External Research Symposium, there was an abundance of each. In addition to being an incredibly interesting two days, the symposium plays a significant role in our mission to harness the power of science and technology to improve lives around the world.  

     

    Over the course of the two-day event, more than 130 research professionals from around the world gathered with members of the Microsoft Research team to share the latest discoveries and challenges from projects focused on an impressive range of topics.  There were more than 30 presentations of projects that delve deeply into astronomy, computational biology, forest fire management, genetics, robotics and much more.  

     

    For those of us at Microsoft Research, this gathering provided an opportunity to hear directly from researchers involved in projects we are supporting with financial and/or technical assistance. This year, a few of the topics included, diversity in computing, using computational biology to better understand ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), as well as the recently launched Chemistry Add-in for Word (Chem4Word), which has surpassed 100,000 downloads in just a short period of time. During the two days we spent together we learned not only about the progress of projects, but also about opportunities for further collaboration, which often arise beyond the original scope of a project.

     

    For those who presented their projects at the symposium, the benefits are equally compelling. Researchers who attend the symposium often discover, by sharing ideas and information with other researchers, how some of the same technologies already in use can be leveraged in different ways, often across disciplines. Diversity accelerates discovery, and at Microsoft’s External Research Symposium it’s not unusual to witness astronomers learning from biologists, oceanographers from chemists, and vice versa on how to use technological tools to extend the boundaries of their research.

     

    With the success of the ER Symposium freshly on our minds, we at Microsoft Research are looking forward to continuing the worldwide collaboration effort next week, May 12 – 14, when Microsoft Research hosts the sixth annual Latin American Faculty Summit in Guarujá, Brazil, themed “Computing: Making the Difference.” Among many others, the summit will feature research collaborators who shared their findings at last month’s symposium. Claudia M. Bauzer of the University of Campinas will continue to share findings from the multidisciplinary research project called e-farms, which bridges computer science and agriculture. In addition to getting a sneak peak at this innovative project, nearly all the presentations given at the symposium are posted, including: David Heckerman’s pivotal HIV vaccine research, Joe Townsend’s energetic talk on the Chemistry Add-in for Word and Professor Jeremy Baumberg’s intriguing presentation on “MetaSurfacing with the Surface”.

     

    I invite you to learn more about the research shared at the symposium, which is being guided by some of the finest scientists working today. And please watch this blog next week for more information from the summit in Brazil.

     

    External Research Team

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