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When Microsoft Research teamed up with the University of California Berkeley to create a digital tool for exploring the history of everything, we knew we had the potential to build a killer educational app. After all, a tool that can reveal the cross-currents of history, revealing the interdependencies that cut across disciplines, geographies, and cultures, would offer a major advance in the understanding of Big History—the history of not just humanity, but of life, Earth and, ultimately, the cosmos. Moreover, it would provide researchers with a tool to derive unique insights based on multidisciplinary connections between vastly disparate data sets.
On March 12, the resulting tool, ChronoZoom—a dynamic, zoomable timeline that starts with Big Bang and ends with modern history—won first prize in the Educational Resources category of the 2013 SXSW Interactive Awards. As described on the SXSW website, the SXSW Interactive Awards competition “uncovers the best new digital work, from mobile and tablet apps to websites and installations, while celebrating those who are building tomorrow's interactive trends.”
ChronoZoom was developed to make time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources. It thus serves as a “master timeline,” tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and aspires to bridge the gap between humanities and the sciences and to bring together and unify all knowledge of the past. With the planned addition of in-browser content and authoring tools, we hope to enable educators and researchers to build timelines; explore rich, multidisciplinary contextual spaces; and to tell and share stories based on authoritative data.
Donald Brinkman, Roland Saekow, and Michael Zyskowski accept the 2013 SXSW Interactive Award for Education
The ChronoZoom project is part of the Outercurve Foundation’s Research Accelerators Gallery. The Outercurve Foundation, a non-profit, open-source foundation, provides software IP management and project development governance to 22 open-source projects. Developers can get involved by visiting the source code project on GitHub.
In his acceptance speech, Michael Zyskowski dedicated the award to Lee Dirks, who strongly believed in and supported the ChronoZoom project.
I encourage you to experience the power of ChronoZoom for yourself. But be forewarned—it can be addictive!
—Donald Brinkman, Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
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
In a recent interview with Scientific American, Peter Lee, head of Microsoft Research, discussed three main motivations for basic research at Microsoft. The first relates to an aspiration to advance human knowledge, the second derives from a culture that relies deeply on the ambitions of individual researchers, and the last concerns “promoting open publication of all research results and encouraging deep collaborations with academic researchers.”It is in keeping with this third motivation that Microsoft Research recently committed to an Open Access policy for our researchers’ publications.As evidenced by a long-running series of blog posts by Tony Hey, vice president of Microsoft Research Connections, Microsoft Research has carefully deliberated our role in the growing movement toward open publications and open data.As is widely known, many institutions and individuals in academic and research fields believe there is benefit in creating a scholarly communications ecosystem in which the results of research are more openly available for access and reuse by the widest possible audience. While Microsoft Research has published actively in academic journals, conferences, and workshops since its inception in 1992, in adopting this open access policy, we have publicly stated our commitment. The opening paragraph makes this clear:
Microsoft Research is committed to disseminating the fruits of its research and scholarship as widely as possible because we recognize the benefits that accrue to scholarly enterprises from such wide dissemination, including more thorough review, consideration and critique, and general increase in scientific, scholarly and critical knowledge.
As a practical matter, we believe that our open access policy will benefit Microsoft Research and the external research community by empowering our researchers to share their work freely, and it will enable Microsoft Research to build a complete, comprehensive, and accessible repository of our research publications.We encourage researchers with whom we collaborate, and to whom we provide support, to embrace open access policies, and we will respect the policies enacted by their institutions. We are undoubtedly in the midst of a transition in academic publishing—a transition affecting publishers, institutions, librarians and curators, government agencies, corporations, and certainly researchers—in their roles both as authors and consumers. We know that there remain nuances to be understood and adjustments to be made, but we are excited and optimistic about the impact that open access will have on scientific discovery.We would like to thank the many members of the research community who have pioneered the work on open access, and, in particular, to acknowledge the foundational efforts of Peter Suber. Finally, a profound thank you to Stuart Shieber, who generously shared his counsel, based on his experiences at Harvard University.—Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director, Microsoft Research Connections, and Alex Wade, Director for Scholarly Communication, Microsoft ResearchLearn more