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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

    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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    Advancing Creative Research and Talent Development in Korea

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    Korea’s Ministry of Knowledge Economy (MKE) recently announced that Microsoft Research Asia will once again be a key partner in the Information Technology Software Creative Research Program, which provides support to world-class researchers in that country. MKE plans to provide matching funds in the amount of five times the expenditures of Microsoft Research Asia (in other words, the ministry provides $5 for every $1 spent by Microsoft Research Asia) on collaborative research projects that are conducted by Korean academia.

     “The collaboration with the Ministry of Knowledge Economy of Korea is a significant milestone in creating opportunities for universities to experience world-class research, discover potential talent, and accelerate innovation,” said Hsiao-Wuen Hon, Microsoft Research Asia managing director. “Microsoft Research Asia is committed to providing continuous support for Korean universities and government programs as a driving force in strengthening Korea’s IT competitiveness.”

    Sixty Korean academics attended Korean Day on July 3, 2012,
    Sixty Korean academics attended Korean Day on July 3, 2012,
    at Microsoft Research Asia in Beijing, China

    As part of the program, Microsoft Research Asia offers internships to graduate-level students at its state-of-the-art facilities in Beijing, China. By providing the opportunity to participate in practical research, the internships help participating students improve their professional skills and increase their knowledge. During the first program, which started in September 2010, a total of 10 graduate students were awarded six-month internships at Microsoft Research Asia. Of those 10 students, five went on to participate in a 12-week summer internship program at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington.

    “The internship program allowed me to experience and learn the research trends and techniques used at a global company,” said Hyunsun Seo, a 2011 Microsoft Research Asia fellowship winner and intern at Microsoft Research Asia and Redmond. “I used to presume research would be conducted in a manner similar to what I’ve done in school. Now, I have a clear picture about the similarities and differences. This insight will be hugely beneficial and will offer me a distinct edge as I plan my career path after graduation.”

    The program has already produced a number of success stories. In its second year, 24 projects were selected out of 54 proposals for research related to topics such as hardware computing, human computing interaction, Internet graphics, Internet media, information retrieval and mining, media computing, wireless and networking, web retrieval and mining, web intelligence, web data management, system, speech recognition, theory, machine learning, and innovative engineering.

    The students’ work was on display during the Korean Day event held on July 3 at the Microsoft Research Asia facilities in Beijing, China. Among those attending were 60 Korean academics, including faculty members and students.

    Miran Lee, Senior University Relations Manager, Microsoft Research Asia

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    David Breashears Brings the Himalayan Region to Life

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    The participants in the 2012 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit gained new appreciation for the changes facing the globe as David Breashears navigated the massive archive of photographic data that his team has gathered in many climbs through the Himalaya Mountains. We came away with a vivid understanding of how far glaciers have retreated in these mountains over the past 100 years.

    Who better than David Breashears to bring the story to life through the means of computing? Filmmaker, adventurer, and mountaineer David Breashears has brought nature to life on film for more than 30 years. He is also the founder and executive director of GlacierWorks.

    Archival photos and GlacierWorks imagery of the Himalaya Mountains demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia.
    Archival photos and GlacierWorks imagery of the Himalaya Mountains demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia.

    David lives a life of adventure most of us only dream about. He has led more than 40 expeditions to the Himalayan region and worked on dozens of documentary film projects since 1979. David has reached the summit of Mount Everest five times! He was also producer, director, and expedition leader for Everest, one of the most successful IMAX films ever made. He has led, and continues to lead, a fascinating life.

    David’s keynote focused on his work with GlacierWorks, a non-profit organization that uses art and science to vividly document how the Himalayan glaciers are changing before our very eyes. The Himalaya Mountains are home to some of the world’s most beautiful peaks and thousands of high-altitude glaciers. The glaciers provide seasonal water flows to rivers throughout Asia. These precious flows have been disappearing at an alarming rate, however.

    Since 2007, GlacierWorks teams have embarked on 10 expeditions, each carefully retracing the steps of early mountain photographers. Meticulously captured images match their predecessors’ work. Comparing the images, GlacierWorks identified an alarming loss of ice in the region.

    David and his team are building a resource to share their information with students. They have been collaborating with Microsoft Research to create an immersive Internet experience that enables a richer interaction with GlacierWorks’ massive photographic database. At the heart of this collaboration is Rich Interactive Narratives (RIN). RIN combines traditional forms of storytelling with new visualization technologies to create compelling interactive digital narratives.

    For the Himalayas project, the team is combining archival media and GlacierWorks imagery to demonstrate the impact that climate change is having on the glaciers and river systems of Asia. The team is hopeful that an engaging and educational interactive experience will appeal to today’s students, and inspire them to investigate climate change further.

    We have made David Breashears' keynote available online. I encourage you to view this incredible presentation for yourself. You can also find more information about Breashears and his work through these resources:

    Harold Javid, Director, The Americas, Microsoft Research Connections

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