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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

    Open-source lab launches in Australia

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    On June 11, 2013, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) launched the Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab at the university’s new Science and Engineering Center in the heart of Brisbane. This exciting venture will enable students to create software solutions for real-world problems—through emerging projects, such as Glycogen (a learning environment built for the One Laptop per Child initiative); through hackathons built around the D3.js visualization libraries, making open data in biology and healthcare visible to all; and through global competitions such as QUT’s Change the World series and Microsoft Imagine Cup.

    The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus
    The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus

    The launch represents the culmination of hard work by QUT, along with support from Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Australian subsidiary, Red Hat Asia Pacific, and Technology One, a Brisbane-based enterprise software company. Each of these partners sees value in working cooperatively on open-source projects, understanding the model of community driven projects operating hand-in-hand with commercial services and products. The launch activities included a keynote address by Pia Waugh, a veteran of the Australian open-source community and now a leading figure in such open-government initiatives as GovHack.

    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab will take a leading role in the .NET Bio project, an open-source library of common bioinformatics functions that simplifies the creation of life-science applications for the Windows platform. In fact, QUT students are already authoring extensions to the library’s core algorithms and developing new pattern-matching components that will allow complex, structured searches across genomes. Other students are working to link .NET Bio parsing and search capabilities to open-visualization tools, allowing better understanding of the structure of genomes and their regulatory systems.

    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.
    The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.

    In one key project under development, QUT students are building a new toolset on top of .NET Bio to simplify population studies in human disease. The new tools will support the analysis of samples from multiple individuals by using next-generation sequencing techniques. These approaches, a variant of restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (better known as RADseq), allow identification of subtle genomic differences that are important markers of diseases. The .NET Bio library will provide an integrated platform for these analyses, with the important additional benefit of allowing direct interaction with tools such as Microsoft Excel, enabling researchers to capture and further analyze results in a familiar environment.

    Microsoft Research is pleased to support QUT’s exciting open-source venture, and we will be looking for great things to emerge from Down Under!

    Simon Mercer, Director, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Microsoft Research gives promising computer science faculty a boost

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    The time for new faculty members to take risks in research is early in their careers. However, early-career realities often get in the way. As any tenure-track academic knows, the first few years of one’s career can be a seemingly endless process of writing grant proposals. The Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships liberate promising young researchers from this task, allowing them the freedom to conduct research to advance computer science in bold new directions with minimal distractions.

    Meet the winners of the 2013 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships

    Each year since 2005, we’ve awarded the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships to innovative and exceptionally talented, early-career faculty members from a variety of research institutions. The recently announced 2013 fellowships continue this tradition of supporting the brightest young academics in the field of computer science to pursue their visions and make an impact—a tangible manifestation of our commitment to collaborating with the scholarly community to use computing to solve global problems.

    The seven 2013 Faculty Fellows were selected from four regions: (1) Latin America and the Caribbean; (2) Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; (3) the United States and Canada; and (4) Australia and New Zealand. All seven fellows are pursuing breakthrough, high-impact research that has the potential to help alleviate some of today’s most challenging problems. For example:

    • Michael Schapira, a senior lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is conducting research to design practical Internet protocols that will improve web performance and security by providing “provable guarantees” for such attributes as routing and traffic management.
    • Animashree Anandkumar, assistant professor at the University of California, Irvine, is applying large-scale machine learning and high-dimensional statistics to various problems in social networking and computational biology.
    • Monica Tentori, assistant professor at Mexico’s Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education (CICESE), is researching human-computer interactions and ubiquitous computing, particularly on the design, development, and evaluation of natural user interfaces and self-reflection capture tools—work that helps support the needs of urban residents, hospital workers, and the elderly.

    Joining Michael, Animashree, and Monica are:

    • Ryan Williams, assistant professor at Stanford University, whose research focuses on constructing algorithms that solve computational problems more efficiently
    • Ruslan Salakhutdinov, assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, whose interests lie in artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and large-scale optimization.
    • Katrina Ligett, assistant professor at the California Institute of Technology, who is developing theoretical tools to address problems in data privacy and to understand individual incentives in complex settings
    • Michael Milford, senior lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology, whose research seeks to understand how robots and biological systems map and navigate the world

    With these awards, the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship program now has provided support to 59 academic investigators whose exceptional talent for research and innovation in computer science identifies them as emerging leaders in their fields. As the computer industry’s leading research laboratory, we are committed to creating opportunities for researchers around the world to make an impact, and we are delighted to provide fellowships to advance the work of promising young faculty members.

    Jaime Puente, Director, Chair of Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship Program, Microsoft Research Connections

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    WorldWide Telescope Powers “Cosmic Wonder” at Adler Planetarium

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    Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IllinoisMicrosoft Research’s WorldWide Telescope (WWT) has brought spectacular images and engaging, informative tours of the night sky to countless personal computers—including, we hope, yours. But WorldWide Telescope also offers a powerful tool for planetariums, large and small, providing two things they never had before: views of the sky based on real imagery, and a three-dimensional perspective.

    Nowhere has the link between WWT and planetariums been stronger and more mutually beneficial than with the famed Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s lakefront. The researchers at the Adler’s Space Visualization Lab—particularly Mark SubbaRao and Doug Roberts—have been testing and pushing the limits of WWT for five years now. The Adler, which has the highest resolution digital dome in the United States, has built many different exhibits using WWT, and encouraged the WWT team to create a full-dome display with 3-D stereo.

    Image of Great Nebula in Orion from the Hubble Space Telescope displayed on the Adler Planetarium dome
    Image of Great Nebula in Orion from the Hubble Space Telescope displayed on the
    Adler Planetarium dome 

    Now the folks at the Adler have united the features of their planetarium with the imagery and storytelling capabilities of WWT to create “Cosmic Wonder,” arguably one of the most engaging and breathtaking planetarium shows ever. WWT projects images on the planetarium’s state-of-the-art, 20-projector and 81-mega-pixel dome, to bring the Crab Nebula descending toward viewers and show what happens when a star explodes. The live presentation then zooms the audience into the constellation of Orion to witness the birth of stars and takes viewers to a patch of the night sky, where Hubble images display more than 5,500 galaxies. This exciting show is more than just spectacle, it’s an immersive experience that invites the audience to ask questions and learn from experts—much as WWT on your PC does with its guided tours.

    Audience at Adler Planetarium views an infrared image revealing a star formation in Carina With “Cosmic Wonder,” the Adler has done a remarkable job of showing the human “power to wonder” and how that leads us to seek answers and make amazing discoveries. We are very excited to have Bing be the presenting sponsor for the show, as Bing is a powerful tool that facilitates the seeking of answers. I had the privilege of introducing the “Cosmic Wonder” shows during the launch on May 17. I could not have been prouder of how WWT and our partners at the Adler have created an incredibly rich, unbelievably engaging, and thoroughly educational experience.

    If you’re in Chicago this summer, I urge you to take in this amazing show. But even if your travels don’t include the Windy City, you can experience the wonders of the universe through your PC by downloading the WorldWide Telescope.

    Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment; Microsoft Research Connections

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