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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

    Young talent gathers at Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum


    The past decade has witnessed an incredible boom in Chinese academic research—a boom fueled in large measure by talented young researchers. Over the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of supporting the Joint PhD Program, in which Microsoft Research Asia collaborates with leading Chinese universities to discover and foster outstanding research talent. From 1998 to 2013, more than 150 Chinese students have participated in this program. 

     Some of the young researchers who gathered for the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum
    Some of the young researchers who gathered for the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum

    “How about hosting a forum to get all these young talents together and provide them an opportunity to inspire each other?” I felt quite excited when this idea came up during a Joint PhD Program committee meeting. After a month of preparation, the first Microsoft Research Asia PhD Forum was held on December 12, 2013. It was a rousing success, bringing together not only the program’s PhD students but also more than 60 additional doctoral students from Peking University, Tsinghua University, Beihang University, and the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    This PhD forum provided a platform for direct communication among top doctoral students. As one participant observed, it gave the young researchers a unique opportunity “to exchange ideas with fellows who have similar research experiences, which is very helpful and distinctive.”

    In addition to this overall sense of camaraderie and mutual inspiration, the forum featured many impressive sessions. Yu Zheng, a lead researcher at Microsoft Research Asia and a renowned expert on the burgeoning field of urban computing, gave an opening keynote that discussed how city problems could be addressed by using big data. This speech, from a researcher who was named one of world’s top innovators under 35 by MIT Technology Review, was an inspirational event, and many students clearly viewed Dr. Zheng as a role model. Xiaohui Wang, a PhD student from Tsinghua University, told us with enthusiasm, “I was inspired by Yu Zheng’s talk. It was great to learn how top researchers at Microsoft Research Asia have advanced their research progress.”

    Zhen Cui, left, and Dong Chen discussed their work on face recognition during the oral session.
    Zhen Cui, left, and Dong Chen discussed their work on face recognition during the
    oral session.

    During the oral session, 12 PhD students shared their published research findings. Particularly notable was the dialogue between Dong Chen, a Microsoft Research Asia Joint-PhD student, and Zhen Cui, a PhD candidate from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. They focused on face recognition, and both of their papers had been accepted by 2013 Conference on Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition. “Dong’s work on face verification is amazing. I am very happy and honored to attend this forum with such excellent peers, and I’ve benefited greatly from my interactions here with Dong and other students,” said Zhen Cui.

    During the forum, 16 PhD students presented their work with posters and demos. Pictured here are the two students who were awarded the Best Poster Prize.
    During the forum, 16 PhD students presented their work with posters and demos. Pictured here are the two students who were awarded the Best Poster Prize.

    During the panel session, four participants engaged in a spirited talk on how to achieve a better PhD career. They made me think about my own professional life, so interesting and meaningful were their observations. Their discussion on relationships with mentors impressed me the most. “Mentors are quite different from each other. As a PhD student, it is quite important to know your mentor’s style first, and then by working together with him, you will grow and be independent in research work,” said Shiguang Shan, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

    A capacity crowd listened raptly during the panel discussion, How to Achieve a Better PhD Career.
    A capacity crowd listened raptly during the panel discussion, How to Achieve a Better
    PhD Career.

    As I reflect on the academic achievements and innovative spirit of these young students, I feel extremely satisfied and honored to have organized this forum. Although it lasted only one day, I believe the forum will be meaningful in the development of these promising young researchers.

    With the rapid development of Chinese research activities, I am convinced that the full potential of young talent is yet to be discovered. I sincerely hope that next year, more students from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China will join us, and that the graduates of the Joint PhD Program will continue to make significant contributions to research.

    Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others


    Functional Lens Promises to Improve the Quality of Life for Diabetics and Others

    Millions of people worldwide live with type 1 diabetes, a potentially devastating disease with no known cure. People who have type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin in their pancreas, so they must constantly monitor their blood sugar levels while balancing food intake against insulin intake. It’s a mentally taxing, painful process that must be repeated throughout the day.

    A collaboration between Associate Professor Babak Parviz at the University of Washington (UW) and Microsoft Senior Researcher Desney Tan is focused on developing a non-invasive, technological solution that promises to improve both the health and overall quality of life for people with diabetes: a contact lens that monitors blood glucose levels. The functional lens technology is representative of a trend in technology known as Natural User Interface (NUI).

    NUI technology has the potential to provide user benefits without being obvious to others or intrusive to the user. We believe it has tremendous potential in the healthcare industry, where technology is a necessary, but not always pleasant, part of a patient’s diagnosis or care. The functional contact lens is an excellent example of how NUI can change patient monitoring from “snapshots” of information to continuous health monitoring that could potentially improve the wearer’s overall health—especially for those with a chronic disease, such as diabetes.

    Today, people with type 1 diabetes use needles to draw blood from their fingers multiple times throughout the day—every day, including meal times—to check their blood glucose levels. By monitoring their glucose levels, they can more easily ensure that they maintain an acceptable glucose level, which is critical to optimal health and longevity for diabetes patients.

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    The Daily Impact of Diabetes

    Daily, repeated blood draws are a painful necessity for people with diabetes. This process has limitations because the monitoring is only periodic. Diabetics may experience glucose fluctuations that require correction—for example, by increasing insulin intake or eating a piece of candy to raise their blood sugar level—anytime of the day. Regular glucose monitoring, in addition to sensible dietary choices, are part of daily life for Kevin McFeely, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 30 years ago, and his two young children, who also have diabetes.

    “If I don’t check my blood sugar, or my children don’t check their blood sugar daily, there are some different things that could potentially happen,” he explained. “If my blood sugar gets too high, I have noticed that my vision begins to blur, I begin feeling nauseous, very, very tired, and just almost physically sick. And potentially, if I let that go, I could pass out from having high blood glucose.”

    Low blood sugar also presents a danger to people with diabetes. If glucose falls too low, a diabetic may begin to sweat, suffer an elevated heart rate, and potentially lose consciousness. So it is critical that diabetics monitor their blood glucose on a regular basis throughout the day. McFeely’s children, who are ages seven and ten, are responsible for managing their disease and monitoring themselves at school throughout the day.

    “I’m used to testing myself six to eight times per day. I’ve been doing it for 30 years,” McFeely says. “But boy, when I think about my children… I mean, you have a spring-loaded needle that’s coming into your finger, and it hurts them. I can see their faces [when they test], and I can see them cringe.”

    A New Approach to Monitoring Health

    As envisioned, the lens would be worn daily, just like regular contact lenses. But instead of, or in addition to, correcting vision, the lens would monitor the wearer’s glucose level through their tears. Much of the information that can be obtained through blood testing is also accessible on the surface of the eye. The functional lens is being designed to sample eye fluid, analyze it, and transmit the information to a reporting machine. A tiny radio transmitter embedded in the lens will handle the information transfer.

    Parviz’s team at UW has built a variety of contact lenses with small radios and antennas built in, enabling them to draw power as well as send and receive information through radio frequencies. Also, the UW team has been able to place a glucose sensor on the contact lens and demonstrate that it can detect glucose at levels that are found in the tear film. The goal is to unite these elements to develop a contact lens that constantly monitors the blood glucose level and records information that can be accessed later by the patient’s doctor.

    McFeely is hopeful that technology, like the functional contact lens, can improve the monitoring and care options available to his children. “Thinking about the functional contact lens for my children who are both type 1 diabetic—I think that would be incredible,” he said. “Given that my children are diagnosed at such a young age, it does have the potential to help them live a longer, healthier life.”

    Visualizing Future Applications

    Ideally, the lens will do more than just record information. The UW team envisions a way to automatically display important information—including abnormal glucose or insulin alerts—in the lens wearer’s view. It could alert the wearer when they should stop eating due to glucose levels, or remind them when it’s time to get a snack. This real-time feedback would empower the user to react quickly, avoiding health-threatening or uncomfortable episodes. The visual information would be dormant the rest of the time, adhering to the NUI idea of being unobtrusive until needed.

    Once fully developed, the technology could be used to replace virtually any screening or diagnostics that currently depend upon blood draws. Additionally, the researchers who are involved in the project envision a future in which contact lenses deliver medicine directly into the bloodstream through the cornea.

    Kristin Tolle, Director, Natural User Interface, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Try F#—Data Console to Big and Broad Data


    Today, we are excited to announce the latest release of Try F#, a set of resources that makes it easy to learn and program with F# in your browser. It’s available over a wide range of platforms and doesn’t require a download of Microsoft Visual Studio. Try F# quickly reveals the value of the versatile F# programming language.

    Learn how to program in F#. Create and share code with the new release of Try F#

    Try F# enables users to learn F# through new tutorials that focus on solving real-world problems, including analytical programming quandaries of the sort that are encountered in finance and data science. But Try F# is much more than a set of tutorials. It lets users write code in the browser and share it with others on the web to help grow a community of F# developers.

    This latest release of Try F# is an evolution that keeps the tool in synch with the new experiences and information-rich programming features that are available in F# 3.0, the latest version of the language. The tutorials incorporate many domains, and help users understand F#’s new powerful “type providers” for data and service programming in the browser-based experience.

    F# has become an invaluable tool in accessing, integrating, visualizing, and sharing data analytics. Try F# thus has the potential to become the web-based data console for bringing “big and broad data,” including the associated metadata, from thousands of sources (eventually millions) to the fingertips of developers and data scientists. Try F# helps fill the need for robust tools and applications to browse, query, and analyze open and linked data. It promotes the use of open data to stimulate innovation and enable new forms of collaboration and knowledge creation.

    For example, to answer a straightforward question such as, “Is US healthcare cost-effective?” researchers now need to look at several datasets, going back and forth between an integrated development environment (IDE) and webpages to figure out if they’ve found what they need.

    With Try F#, a researcher can quickly and easily access thousands of schematized and strongly-typed datasets. This presents huge opportunities in today’s data-driven world, and we strongly encourage all developers and data scientists to use Try F# to seamlessly discover, access, analyze, and visualize big and broad data.

    Evelyne Viegas, Director of Semantic Computing, Microsoft Research Connections
    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect, Microsoft Research Connections

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