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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.

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    Summit Illuminates Computer Science Research in Latin America

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    I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.

    As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.

    The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.

    The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit:  through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.

    This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!

    Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Summit Promotes Women in Computing

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    Summit Promotes Women in ComputingFor the past three days I’ve been at the NCWIT (National Center for Women & Information Technology) 2012 Summit on Women and IT, and what a three days it’s been! The annual NCWIT Summit is a celebration of girls and women in technology, but above all, it’s an opportunity for leaders from education, industry, and government to explore avenues for recruiting and retaining women in IT roles.

    For me, this year’s summit has not only been a tremendous resource for new ideas, it also provided a prime opportunity to promote Microsoft’s commitment to increasing women’s presence in computing. Microsoft has been a NCWIT sponsor since 2004, and an investment partner since 2006. In 2009, an additional Microsoft gift brought the company's funding for NCWIT to US$2 million since 2005, an indication of our dedication to strengthening the U.S. IT workforce with an expanded, diverse pool of talent.

    As further evidence of the company’s commitment, I am excited to report that we released our new Women in Computing website in conjunction with the summit. This site not only offers information about free tools, programs, and opportunities to support women in computing, it also summarizes our educational initiatives—which extend from grade school to graduate studies to faculty fellowships—and includes inspirational stories of women who are helping to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems through careers in computer science and technology.

    The summit also gave me a chance to highlight our involvement in the launch of NCWIT’s Sit With Me campaign. This launch took place on March 9, International Women’s Day, and Microsoft marked the occasion by holding 50 events that spanned the globe, all celebrating women in computing. In addition, Microsoft Research labs around the world have begun to launch Sit With Me campaigns to grow the next generation of female researchers and inventors. Microsoft is also an active participant in the NCWIT Pacesetters program, in which senior leaders from corporations and universities commit to increasing their numbers of technical women.

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    One of the summit’s high points for me was assisting Microsoft Staffing Director Sean Kelly in presenting the first-ever NCWIT Pioneer Award, given to women who have forged new trails for women in computing. The recipients were Patricia Palumbo and Lucy Simon Rakov, two trailblazing programmers who helped the United States explore outer space and paved the way for women in computing. Read about their amazing careers.

    The summit also recognized the Chicago-area recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing, which honors female high-school students for computing-related achievements and interests. Microsoft Research is pleased to be a sponsor of this important program, and I was excited to meet two inspirational young women who want to change the world in their pursuit of a career in computing. They will both join us at Microsoft as interns this summer.

    In addition, I was thrilled to join with Christine Alvarado (of Harvey Mudd College), Maureen Biggers (of Indiana University-Bloomington), and Margaret Burnett (of Oregon State University) to honor the 2012 recipients of the Microsoft Research funded Academic Alliance (AA) Seed Fund awards. This program provides AA members with funds to conceptualize and implement promising practices for recruiting and retaining women in computing at the higher education level. And since Microsoft is an active member of the Academic Alliance, my colleagues and I were busy participants in Alliance meetings at the summit.

    One might think I’m exhausted after all these activities, but the summit has been so uplifting that I find myself energized. This has been truly an inspirational event. Now I just have to get some of that great Chicago pizza before I head back to the Northwest.

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

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    Microsoft Latin American Faculty Summit: A Walk on the Intellectual Beach

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    The weather is warm and balmy along Mexico’s renowned Riviera Maya, the venue for the 2012 Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit. I’m sure my friends would tell me to get outside, walk along the beach, and think peaceful thoughts. Great suggestions, but I find myself drawn indoors by the summit’s lively intellectual discourse and its thought-provoking research presentations—just like at the previous seven Latin American Faculty Summits.

    The theme of this year’s summit is “Technology in Action,” which captures the role of computing in helping to solve real-world problems and advance social and scientific discovery. And indeed, the meeting rooms of the Grand Velas Riviera Hotel are abuzz with researchers from across Latin America and the Caribbean, actively discussing the role of computing in fields as varied as education, geology, healthcare, and the environment. Explicit in many of these discussions is how Microsoft Research can help define the twenty-first century, as scientific inquiry blends virtual and physical reality and strives to gain insights from “big data.”

    Announcing the 2012 Faculty Fellows award winners

    As excited as I am by the summit’s lineup of speakers and presentations, my greatest enjoyment has come from witnessing Tony Hey’s introduction of Juan Carlos Niebles as this year’s Microsoft Research Faculty Fellow from Latin America and one of seven from around the world. This is the eighth year of the fellowship program, which is intended to identify future thought leaders and provide the funding and public recognition that will help accelerate their research. It has been my pleasure to be involved with the program from its beginning, getting to know the recipients and following their careers. And now, with the selection of Juan Carlos, I feel that the program has truly come of age. You see, Juan Carlos is a “second generation” Faculty Fellow, which is to say he studied under a previous Faculty Fellow from 2006, Fei-Fei Li. How exciting to have come so far in such a short time!

    I’m invigorated by the prospect of watching Juan Carlos make further advances in the field of computer vision as his career progresses. He already has created novel algorithms for the automatic recognition and detailed understanding of human motions, activities, and behaviors from images and videos. This technology has the potential to enable innovative activity-aware systems—such as personal robots and smart homes, smart video surveillance, medical diagnosis and monitoring, automated sports analysis, and semantic video search—which will enhance our quality of life.

    The selection of Faculty Fellows is just one example of Microsoft Research’s ongoing commitment to collaborating with the academic community and the advancement of computer-science-based research in Latin America. Equally illustrative are the two virtual institutes we have co-founded in region: the Microsoft Research–FAPESP Institute for ICT Research and the Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research Federation (LACCIR). These two institutions are advancing the development and application of computer science in Latin America, and their research output is prominently represented at this year’s summit.

    Speaking of prominent features, I must mention the new timeline of Mayan culture, which is part of the ChronoZoom content update being launched at the summit. This timeline, created in conjunction with Felipe Gaytan and Camina Murillo from La Salle University in Mexico, covers the rise and fall of Mayan civilization and the ongoing history of ethnic Mayan identity. Equally important, it shows the tremendous potential of ChronoZoom to cover and integrate the history of everything.  By launching the ChronoZoom content update at the summit, we hope to encourage top science and humanities scholars in Latin American to create content in ChronoZoom.

    Also announced at the summit was Microsoft’s partnership with Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana to translate The Fourth Paradigm: Data-Intensive Scientific Discovery into Spanish. The Microsoft Research publication is a collection of thought-provoking essays on the development and promise of data-intensive research.

    I could go on and on about the summit—but for now, I think I’ll take that walk on the beach, while I reflect on the excitement of the day.

    Harold Javid, Director, The Americas, Microsoft Research Connections

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