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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

    Getting back to first principles with eScience in the Cloud workshop

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    As I prepare for the upcoming eScience in the Cloud workshop, I keeping coming back to what might sound like an obvious statement—even in these times when we’re trying to tackle hugely complex issues, like understanding climate change, and we are coping with heterogeneous data in volumes not previously encountered: as with life, science always finds a way. Okay, I’m paraphrasing from Jurassic Park, but you take my meaning.

    Facing these complex issues will involve working together—multiple research disciplines collaborating across multiple institutions, across multiple sectors of business, nonprofit, and government. A tall order? Certainly—but, with cooperation and communication, one that is tractable (notice I did not say easy). I hope to see that conversation continue at this workshop.

    Further your data-intensive research

    Yes, we are coping with massive data sets and have the means to collect and share them. Processing big data takes massive compute power; fortunately, compute power grows and becomes increasingly accessible every day. Visualizing data for exploration is critical—and never have I seen more tools to visualize and explore data than of late.

    The reason I call this blog “Getting back to first principles” is that many of the topics we will discuss at the eScience in the Cloud 2014 workshop were topics also discussed at Microsoft SciData 2004, our original eScience event, held some 10 years ago.

    Sure, the stakes and the availability of tools and compute resources seem higher (don’t they always?), yet the topics and goals are much the same: how we can use technology (in this case, the cloud) to expedite scientific discoveries. This is why, when my co-chair and colleague, Dennis Gannon (formerly an academic attendee) pulled the event together, he and I reviewed feedback from previous eScience events and focused on answering these fundamental questions: how is Microsoft going to help? and what resources can we make available?

    Like SciData 2004, the upcoming event will feature not only academics discussing their solutions to compute problems in science, but also Microsoft researchers from a variety of disciplines talking about how you can use their tools to reach your objectives. Even the product teams are becoming involved. They will demonstrate how some of their new offerings—many freely available—can help researchers achieve their goals.

    I hope you will join us April 29–30, at the Microsoft Research Lab in Redmond, Washington, to find out how to further your research in the cloud-computing age. Learn more about the event and register.

    If you can arrive a day earlier, we’re holding a one-day training event that teaches how to use Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud-computing platform, for research. This April 28 event is part of the Windows Azure for Research program.

    Kristin Tolle, Director of Environmental Science Infrastructure Development, Microsoft Research Connections

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    New online Windows Azure training for researchers

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    The global Windows Azure for Research program has been going strong for almost six months, and we’ve been delighted by the response from the researchers around the world who have eagerly attended our in-person training events. Today, we are pleased to announce an online version of the training.

    Now any researcher can learn how to harness the power of Windows Azure—an open and flexible global cloud platform that supports any language, tool, or framework, and is ideally suited to the needs of researchers across disciplines. Think of it as your personal, data-crunching robot in the cloud.

    On-demand training for data-intensive computing

    The in-person training classes have taught hundreds of researchers how to take advantage of the computational and collaborative power of Windows Azure for data-intensive investigations. The online class provides a condensed version of this training, customizable for a personalized learning plan and complemented by the in-depth content in our webinar series.

    The online materials now available include six videos, which range from 10 to 20 minutes long. Together, they provide a comprehensive but highly efficient way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research. Anyone with an Internet connection can access these free training resources—anywhere, anytime, on demand.

    A live class is still recommended as the most effective way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research because it provides the benefits of an experienced trainer, interactive dialogue, and greater depth. But not everyone can attend a class, so we hope the online course will enable even more researchers to explore how cloud computing can accelerate their research. For those interested in attending an in-person training course, please see the training schedule for 2014.

    The training course, online or in-person, is intended specifically for active scientists who are interested in coding in a modern computing context, as well as for computer scientists who are working with such researchers.

    Before you race off to view the online training videos, I want to remind you about the Windows Azure for Research Awards, which offer a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources to winning proposals. The deadline for submitting proposals for the next round of awards is April 15, so don’t procrastinate.

    Dan Fay, Director, Science Research Engagements, Microsoft Research

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    Inviting girls to dream big

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    On March 8, we celebrated International Women’s Day. Every year on this date, thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate their achievements. Women's equality has made positive gains, but plenty of inequality still exists. International Women's Day commemorates the social, political, and economic achievements of women, while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action. “Inspiring Change” was the theme of the 2014 celebration, and the goal was to encourage advocacy for women's advancement everywhere in every way. Promoting women’s equality requires courageously challenging the status quo and vigilantly inspiring positive change. In conjunction with International Women’s Day, Microsoft profiled the work of five female employees—whose efforts are representative of the work of countless other Microsoft women—in empowering girls’ and women’s involvement in science, research, computing, and engineering.

    Big Dream: encouraging girls to pursue a future in science and technology

    Just two days after International Women’s Day, the fifty-eighth session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) kicked off at United Nations Headquarters in New York. CSW is a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is the principal global policymaking body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women. This year’s CSW theme was access and participation of women and girls in education, training, science, and technology, including for the promotion of women’s equal access to full employment and decent work. At CSW, I had the privilege of presenting Microsoft’s Big Dream Movement—an exciting new effort to involve more girls in science and technology—on Friday, March 14, during the UN Women Session, "ICT for women’s economic empowerment and poverty alleviation."

    The Big Dream Movement connects organizations, academia, and resources to girls around the world to help them pursue a future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. The movement is anchored by Big Dream, a documentary film that follows the stories of seven young women who are breaking barriers and overcoming personal challenges to follow their passions in STEM fields. From small town Iowa to the bustling streets of the Middle East, Big Dream immerses viewers in a world designed by and for the next generation of girls. Our hope is that this inspirational film will excite young women, their families, and friends to the possibilities inherent in science and technology.


    Watch the Big Dream trailer

    Microsoft is pleased to be underwriting this film and to be partnering with the following organizations to make the Big Dream Movement a reality around the world: UN Women, ITU (the International Telecommunications Union), UNESCO, the European Commission, Zen Digital- DLI, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Girls Collaborative Project, the Girl Scouts, the National Center for Women in Technology, the Anita Borg Institute (ABI), ACM-W, IEEE-Women in Engineering, and Black Girls Code. We are pleased to have the following on our leadership team: Jennifer Breslin UN Women; Gary Fowler, ITU; Saniye Gülser Corat, UNESCO; Cheryl Miller, Zen Digital- DL and the EU Commission; Lucy Sanders, NCWIT; Telle Whitney, ABI; Kimberly Brant, Black Girls Code; Janice Cuny, the National Science Foundation; Karen Peterson, National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP); Kristen Grennan, Global Girls Scouts; and Valeria Barr, ACM-W.

    During the UN Women Session at CSW, on behalf of Microsoft I took part in a wide-ranging discussion of what must be done to attract more women to STEM fields. Session participants agreed that it is time to change the message and help women become producers instead of consumers of technology, and to empower women to help create the solutions for the future. We encouraged the 45 member states elected by ECOSOC to participate in the Big Dream Movement. Throughout the coming year, the movement will publicize the many “best-kept secrets”—those amazing organizations, academic institutions, researchers, professors, and companies that have programs and tools to help expose women to STEM. We will also educate young women about the career possibilities and the impact they can make by pursuing careers in STEM fields.

    This summer (northern hemisphere), our website, BigDreamMovement.com, will go live, providing a portal for you to learn about programs and tools that promote computing and STEM. Then, starting in the fall, we plan to show Big Dream at events all over the world. Panel discussions will follow immediately after the screening, during which local students will talk about their experiences in STEM. Local organizations will also be on hand to talk with students and parents about STEM opportunities in the community. And the aforementioned website will include a worldwide registry of organizations that provide STEM opportunities to girls, so that anyone can find local resources and programs. At the end of 2015, we will hand over all of the assets to UN Women, which will connect women around the world and keep the movement thriving through the Knowledge Gateway for Women's Economic Empowerment.

    In the meantime, we encourage you to SKYPE BigDreamMovement and leave a personal video message. If you’re a professional woman or man, describe your Big Dream and offer advice to young women wanting to pursue a future in STEM. If you’re a young woman, tell us what is your Big Dream is and how a future in STEM can help you get there.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Education and Scholarly Communication, Microsoft Research Connections

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