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If you wonder about how to maximize the benefits of the enormous amount of data now available while minimizing the headaches of managing it, you are not alone. The Economist recently published a special section with several articles on the topic, addressing issues near and dear to the global research community – including storage, computation and visualization. With the data joining the ranks of capital and labor as an ingredient critical to success (in business and in research), how will we train the next generation of scientists, governmental organizations and industry leaders to effectively use the data we’re creating and gathering to propel economic growth? Among others, the articles drew on the expertise of Microsoft’s chief research and strategy officer, Craig Mundie, and Alexander Szalay, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University (and a long-time Microsoft Research collaborator). The special section was published in The Economist’s Feb. 25 print and online editions. The various articles provide great perspectives on this situation, and include some intriguing quotes and illustrative charts, so I highly recommend seeking out this thoughtful overview.
Lee Dirks – director for Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research
Congratulations to Charles P. Thacker, a technical fellow with Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, who was recently honored with the Association for Computing Machinery’s highest accolade, the A.M. Turing Award. Please click here to read more.
Every discipline has its own language. The ability to communicate and collaborate in a discipline-specific language is essential to scientific research, especially in an environment characterized by staggering volumes of data.
In chemistry, not only is there a specific language, but also specific symbols. Empowering those symbols by enabling them to communicate across technologies and formats, as well as simplifying authoring and semantic annotation, is at the heart of the Chemistry Add-in for Word. Informally called Chem4Word, this free tool is being unveiled today during the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2010 National Meeting & Exposition.
Chem4Word makes it easier for students, chemists and researchers to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas and 2-D depictions, from within Microsoft Office Word. Designed for and tested on both Word 2007 and Word 2010, it harnesses the power of Chemical Markup Language (XML for chemistry), making it possible not only to author chemical content in Word, but also to include the data behind those structures. Chem4Word and Chemical Markup Language make chemistry documents open, readable and easily accessible, not just to other humans, but also to other technologies.
In the image below, the name and 2D views of the same chemical are shown in the document, along with the Chemistry Navigator, which displays all of the chemistry zones within the current document.
In addition to authoring functionality, Chem4Word enables user denotation of inline “chemical zones,” the rendering of high-quality and print-ready visual depictions of chemical structures and the ability to store and expose semantic-rich chemical information across the global chemistry community.
The product of an ongoing collaboration between Microsoft Research and Dr. Peter Murray-Rust, Dr. Joe Townsend, and Jim Downing from the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics at the University of Cambridge, the Chem4Word project took inspiration from the mathematic-equation authoring capabilities in Word 2007. We also have taken advantage of user-interface extensibility and XML features already included in Office 2007 and Office 2010, and we hope this provides a demonstration of the power of Microsoft Office as a platform. Microsoft Research worked closely with key individuals in the field of chemistry to develop this tool, but Microsoft Office provides the tools and resources to enable other domains to develop on top of Office applications.
Further guiding the development of the Chem4Word project was the Microsoft External Research team’s commitment to supporting the scholarly communications lifecycle, which calls for software and related services that enable the coordinated, seamless exchange of data and information, from authoring through publication to long-term preservation.
The beta release of the Chemistry Add-in for Word is available for free download. Later this year, it will be released as an open-source project under an Apache license via CodePlex.
Alex Wade, director for Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research