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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

    Announcing the Microsoft Academic Graph: Let the research begin!


    The published research generated by the global research community constitutes a diary of humankind’s scientific achievements. As this output grows year after year, it creates new opportunities for further inquiry—and new challenges in dealing with the volume and complexity of the information. As a result, scholarly big data has been the focus of a growing number of recent research workshops, such as:

    For our part, Microsoft Research announced last summer that Microsoft Academic Search was evolving from a research project into full-scale production powered by Bing (see Making Cortana the Researcher’s Dream Assistant). In addition to integrating scholarly publications directly into Bing search results and Cortana’s notification system, we are taking full advantage of Bing’s capacity to crawl the web and generate structured information from unstructured text. Our Academic Graph of research publications, authors, journals, conferences, universities and fields of study has grown significantly, more than doubling the number of publication records of the previous iteration and offering nearly three times the number of citations between publications.

    While our graph continues to grow, today we are announcing the release of a snapshot of this graph for the research community, in an effort to jumpstart new avenues of research at web scale. The Microsoft Academic Graph (MAG) can be used immediately. The data is stored as a set of text files, one for each entity in the graph, and one for each relationship type between the entities (paper-paper citations, author-paper, paper-topic and so forth).

    Professor Jevin West, of the University of Washington’s Information School, calls the MAG a game changer. “There has never been a release of bibliographic data at this scale,” he says. “It will allow researchers to study the structure of scientific knowledge, build better algorithms for mapping the ever-expanding corpus and improving information retrieval. I have been waiting for news like this for years. Let the research begin!”    

    You can download the MAG data directly from Microsoft Azure, or you can mount it from Azure blob storage directly into your own Azure virtual machine. Due to the size of the data, researchers may find it advantageous to use Microsoft’s scalable cloud infrastructure, and to this end, we are encouraging researchers to also apply for an Azure for Research award to support their research efforts. Simply include #academicgraph in your award submission—the next deadline is August 15, 2015.

    As Professor West says, let the research begin!

    Alex Wade, Director of Scholarly Communications, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Innovation from the ground up and into the cloud


    Standing atop the tallest educational edifice in the world—the 240-meter (787-foot) tower of Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU)—really makes you think about the impact of education and research. This is home to some of the brightest minds in the world, including 11 Nobel Prize and six Field Medal winners. So it’s no surprise that we created the Microsoft Research–Lomonosov MSU Joint Research Center in May 2014, to build on our years of close collaboration. To celebrate the center’s first anniversary, Microsoft Research sponsored two research workshops at MSU.

    Azure for Research on display at first anniversary of joint research center
    Lomonosov Moscow State University
    (photo courtesy of Sergey Norin under
    Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

    Cloud computing for research

    The first event, on May 19, focused on showing researchers how to take advantage of cloud computing in virtually every domain. I described many amazing Microsoft Azure for Research projects (see my slides), before we heard from Sergey Bartunov of MSU, who explained how Azure enabled him to train his advanced machine learning model (see his slides). "I first ran the algorithm on my laptop, but after three days of computing, I found it fried,” he said. “At some point you just cannot do everything on your laptop—you either have a powerful enough server at hand or you go to the cloud. On Azure's powerful D14 machine, I could run our algorithm on the whole English Wikipedia and get the results in 16 hours. On my laptop, it would take about six days."

    Ivan Klimov, director of the Center for the Study of New Media and Society (CNMS), discussed how his team can now study VK, Europe’s largest social network, by using the scale and power of Azure. Sergey Berezin, who leads the computational science tools effort at the Microsoft Research–Lomonosov MSU Joint Research Center, detailed how he is collaborating with Microsoft Research to bring new tools, such as Biomodel Analyzer and FetchClimate, to fruition.

    During the workshop, we launched our Azure for Research Russia Initiative for Russian researchers who want more power and storage than their desktop computers can provide for running simulations, doing data science, developing the Internet of Things and taking advantage of our open and flexible Azure Machine Learning service.

    Research tips for graduate students

    Amidst all the intellectual horsepower at MSU, it can be easy to forget that most research careers—even those of Nobel laureates—start in graduate school. These early years can be daunting, so with this in mind we offered the Microsoft Research–Moscow State University Graduate Workshop 2015, held on May 20, designed to help graduate research students expand their thinking and increase the impact of their work.

    Drew Purves from Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK) opened by describing how he went from being a teenager hooked on Conway’s Game of Life to a researcher who has created the world’s first truly global Game of Life: the Madingley Model, which includes every organism on Earth. MSU-alumnus Konstantin Makarychev of the Theory Group at Microsoft Research Redmond was delighted to be back at his alma mater, where he provided tips and tricks on writing better research papers. I wrapped up the morning with a talk on how to give a good talk, which is always a daunting prospect!

     Drew Purves and Konstantin Makarychev share their experiences with the graduate students. (photos courtesy of Elena Pavlova and Alexander Popovkin)
    Drew Purves (left) and Konstantin Makarychev (right) share their experiences with the graduate students. (photos courtesy of Elena Pavlova and Alexander Popovkin)

    During the afternoon, we took the attendees outside of their comfort zone, working in teams to apply what they had learned from the morning sessions. They did a fantastic job of giving a three-minute pitch of research proposals, coming up with big ideas such as science-as-a-service in the cloud and revolutionary video streaming.

    The close of the workshop marked the end of our two-day celebration of the joint research center’s first anniversary, but everyone agreed that it was just the beginning of what promises to be a long and fruitful collaboration between Microsoft Research and some of the brightest minds in Russia. We can’t wait to see what researchers propose to do with Microsoft Azure, and we look forward to receiving many proposals before our deadline of August 15, 2015.

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Smartphone app takes aim at noise pollution


    A special report in the April 19, 2014, issue of The Economist predicted that 70 percent of China’s population—some 1 billion people—will live in cities by 2030. While China’s urban growth offers a higher standard of living to many citizens, it also creates serious problems.

    Among these urban problems, noise pollution ranks among the most pervasive, as factories, construction projects and vehicles produce a cacophony of unwholesome sounds, with deleterious effects on the mental and physical well-being of city dwellers. Unfortunately, existing tools fail to track simultaneous sources of noise pollution accurately in real time, leaving researchers with an incomplete picture of the problem and how to address it. Clearly, researchers need a better way of tracking urban noise.

    Noises permeate urban areas
    Noises permeate urban areas

    Creating a noise map with smartphones

    With funding from Microsoft Research Asia, investigators in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, led by Professor Yanmin Zhu, are developing NoiseSense, a service that will map urban noises by using crowdsourced noise measurements from smartphone users. They envision a noise-mapping service that will allow anyone to query the noise level in any urban area in the world. More importantly, NoiseSense could give authorities the information needed to devise and implement effective noise-abatement strategies.

    Sample noise map of Shanghai based on NoiseSense data
    Sample noise map of Shanghai based on NoiseSense data

    NoiseSense user interface on a Windows Phone
    NoiseSense user interface on a Windows Phone

    System design of NoiseSense
    System design of NoiseSense

    Accelerating urban informatics with Microsoft Azure

    A future in which smartphone users willingly measure noise levels and a super computer system stands ready to crunch the resulting avalanche of data may seem idealistic, but it is exactly what Zhu and his team are striving to achieve. Having spent six months at Microsoft Research Asia as the recipient of a Young Faculty Program award, Zhu was familiar with the company’s research into the burgeoning field of urban informatics. Thus he was well positioned to apply for one of the grants offered by the Microsoft Azure for Research Award program—and delighted when his team’s proposal was one of only 25 Asian submissions (out of 60) to be funded. Taking advantage of the grant of free cloud-computing service on Microsoft Azure, Zhu’s team cleared the hurdle of managing large-scale noise data.

    “I have really enjoyed our collaborations with Microsoft Research Asia in the past two years,” says Zhu. “I benefit a lot from many Microsoft academic programs including, but not limited to, the Accelerating urban informatics with Microsoft Azure program, Microsoft Azure for Research program and Microsoft Research AsiaYoung Faculty program. Furthermore, a couple of my graduate students have been well trained through this noise sensing project and one of my students received a Microsoft Research Asia Fellowship Finalist award last year. I look forward to more in-depth collaborations with Microsoft in the future.”

    The urban computing initiative

    Zhu’s team has made significant progress with the help of Microsoft Azure and the support of Microsoft Research Asia. They have developed a system prototype for a real-time, fine-grained noise-mapping service on Microsoft Azure, and they have created noise-measuring smartphone apps for both Windows Phone and Android operating systems.

    Yu Zheng, a lead researcher at Microsoft Research, has worked closely with Zhu on the noise-mapping project, sharing his experience and expertise in the field of urban informatics. In fact, Zheng piloted Microsoft Research’s Urban Computing project, which has promoted computing applications designed to improve many aspects of city life, including urban transportation, air quality and energy consumption, as well as noise pollution.

    Noise mapping and other urban computing research programs represent just a small percentage of the numerous ways that big data and computing can contribute to a better life for city dwellers. Researchers are only in the early days of exploiting the power and potential of urban computing—and we’re excited to be part of this momentous adventure.  

    —Kangping Liu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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