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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

    Mapping Endangered Species

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    Endangered Species: Golden Lion TamarinWhat do the California condor, the snow leopard, and the Wollemi pine have in common? They’ve all made the least desirable position on one of the nature’s most important lists: the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Now, what do Microsoft and the Zoological Society of London have in common? They’re both Red List partners, working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization—to help understand what species are endangered and why.

    The Microsoft partnership was made public at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. The company is the first and only invited corporate partner for the Red List of Threatened Species.

    Why Microsoft? Is it because of the company’s technology prowess? Well certainly in part. But the request stems largely from the presence of a dedicated team of environmental scientists at Microsoft Research Cambridge. This team, the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group (CEES), is developing new concepts and methods to enable better predictions about our planet, and has been working with the IUCN on the science and tools to help support the IUCN Red List.

    Led by Lucas Joppa, the CEES team’s effort has created a Red List application that uses Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and Bing Maps to enable experts to map where species are found, the threats species face, and the interventions used to negate or prevent these threats. Such mapping is crucial to efforts to halt the seemingly inexorable march toward more extinctions.

    As Joppa explains, “We’re working with the IUCN Red List team to build an application that allows people to spatially map threats to species. Capturing this information is vital, and as a group of scientists in Microsoft Research, we understand both the scientific and technical challenges this involves.”

    The invitation from the IUCN recognizes the scientific expertise of the CEES team, notes Joppa. “What’s really exciting is that we are at the table as scientists, but with the depth and breadth of Microsoft to build on, in terms of people and technology. We feel like we can really make a positive difference.”

    The Red List application is actually just one of many environmental science tools developed by the CEES group, which works closely with Microsoft Research Connections to provide scientists around the world with tools that focus on data, modeling, and decision-support for the earth and environment. Please take a look at some of our other tools, all of which were made for scientists by scientists. These tools typify Microsoft Research’s commitment to provide resources that accelerate research and discovery and enable more effective transformation of data into decisions.
     
    Visit Earth, Energy, and Environment at Microsoft Research Connections to learn more about our collaborations with academic researchers and organizations worldwide.

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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    Workshop Explores Opportunities in Verified Software

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    Building verifiably reliable and trustworthy software is one of the ultimate objectives of software engineering. With this goal in mind, academics, scientists, and researchers gathered in Shanghai, China, for the second Verified Software Workshop and Summer School. The event, which took place from August 23 to 31, 2012, attracted approximately 250 faculty and student attendees from more than 70 universities and research institutes and nearly a dozen countries across the Asia Pacific region and beyond.

    World-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—provided the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools.
    World-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—provided the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools.

    Co-sponsored by Microsoft Research Asia and East China Normal University, the event explored new directions and emerging opportunities in verified software research, with 21 keynote presentations by world-class scientists and researchers—from Asia, Europe, and North America—providing the latest insights into verification theory, practice, and tools. Especially notable among the prominent presenters were the workshop co-chairs: Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, who gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming”; and Professor Jifeng He of East China Normal University and a member of the of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who delivered a keynote on “A Clock-Based Framework for Modeling Hybrid Systems.”

    The event began with a two-day workshop at East China Normal University that included inspiring lectures from technical and academic leaders. A broad and comprehensive workshop, it featured in-depth talks on such topics as detection of concurrency bugs, safe programming of asynchronous interaction, pervasive model checking, analysis and verification of multiple programs, automation of program verification, concurrent software verification, software analytics and its application, and modeling and verification of hybrid systems.

    A five-day summer school of intense training followed the workshop. Students were treated to lectures focusing on the theoretical nature of concurrency and separation logic. One particular highlight was the hybrid systems session, which taught the KeYmaera logical analysis approach in a single day’s time. In addition, a step-by-step tool session provided attendees with valuable hands-on practice and an in-depth learning experience.

    The event was popular with both students and presenters. Summing up the benefits of the event, one student said, “I acquired cutting-edge research and tools in [the] verification software field, and also had the opportunity to exchange my ideas with innovative peers and academic leads from across the world.”

    Capturing the perspective of the experienced researcher, co-chair Tony Hoare praised the event and laid out his goals for such venues, saying, “We hope to expand the opportunities for industrial application of mature academic research, and to encourage the next generation of advanced researchers to continue the pursuit of deep and interesting questions in areas of the software industry.”

    Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming."
    Professor Tony Hoare, the 1980 Turing Award winner and a principal researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge, gave the opening speech, titled, “Algebra Unifies Theories of Programming."

    Co-chair Jifeng He added, “We have achieved a lot in [the] verified software field with everyone’s great effort, but there is always more work to do. With this event, we hoped to not only inspire our young talent but also provide researchers and faculties worldwide with the advantage of exchanging ideas.”

    Lolan Song, the senior director of Microsoft Research Asia, spoke of the company’s objectives in sponsoring such events, observing that “We hold this event in order to advance the state of the art in software and present a great opportunity for academics, researchers, and students in this area to share and exchange ideas. Also, we hope to identify and cultivate worldwide top talent in verified software areas and build up cadres of experienced users to support eventual use of the tools in the industry.” She also expressed the gratitude of Microsoft Research Asia for the assistance and participation of colleagues from Microsoft Research Cambridge, Microsoft Research Redmond, and Microsoft Research India.

    —Kangping Liu, University Relations Manager, Microsoft Research Connections Asia

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    Big Sky; Big Data: WorldWide Telescope in Focus at Astronomical Conference

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    The 28th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) opened on August 20, 2012, at the China National Convention Center in Beijing, with WorldWide Telescope (WWT) prominently featured at the Microsoft Research exhibition.

    The WWT software aggregates the best data and imagery from all the main space- and ground-based telescopes

    Astronomy is one of the oldest and most inspirational areas of scientific discovery, and the two-week IAU General Assembly attracts thousands of attendees from around the world. Participants include researchers and educators not only in traditional astronomy and astrophysics disciplines but also those drawn from informatics, data science, and computer science.
     
    Even in this era of “big data,” astronomy remains one of the most data-intensive fields, which, in part, explains Microsoft Research’s long history of working with the astronomical community. The data- and information-intensive problems that arise as the astronomical community strives to create an all-sky survey (a survey of everything in the sky) and a virtual (online) observatory have stimulated many innovative software and engineering ideas at Microsoft Research and have fostered a rewarding collaboration with the astronomical community.

    One of the most successful outcomes of this collaboration has been WWT, which enables a computer to function as a virtual telescope and more. The WWT software aggregates the best data and imagery from all the main space- and ground-based telescopes, providing incomparable views of the night sky. It also connects seamlessly to the information behind the imagery and allows users to layer their own data on top of the common sky and the Earth imagery. In so doing, WWT enables users to tell stories with data very easily.

    Since its first release in early 2008, WWT has gained millions of users worldwide. For many astronomical professionals, especially educators, WWT has made a fundamental difference in their career. With an exponentially growing user community, we expect that WWT will continue to contribute to the advancement of computational astronomy research and science education. The growing value of WWT is summed up nicely by Harvard astronomer Alyssa Goodman and IAU President Robert Williams:

    WWT was originally created as an educational tool, but it has rapidly become the very best example of the all-sky "Virtual Observatory" research astronomers have been working toward since the advent of the Internet. Today, WWT is the single richest source of astronomical imagery and links online, and it is loved by educators and researchers alike.

    Alyssa Goodman, Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University

    I am immensely impressed with WWT as a teaching and outreach tool and what MR [Microsoft Research] has done to make it both appealing and practical. The IAU has recently commenced a large global program to use astronomy as a tool for education and technology development, and I believe that WWT should be a key element in that entire effort.

    Bob Williams, President, International Astronomical Union

    Microsoft Research presents the WorldWide Telescope at the 28th IAU General Assembly, in exhibition booth #46.Microsoft Research is proud to present the WorldWide Telescope at the 28th IAU General Assembly, in exhibition booth #46. Together with the WWT Ambassadors from Harvard University and academic collaborators from the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Central Normal University, we are eager to engage with IAU2012 attendees and create more WWT success stories. In addition, we look forward to introducing visitors to other cutting-edge Microsoft technologies, including Layerscape, Microsoft Translator, and Kinect for Windows, and to advancing mutually beneficial collaborations between academia and Microsoft Research.

    Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections, and Guobin Wu, Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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