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Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

The Microsoft Research Outreach 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 Outreach Blog

    On the Road with ChronoZoom


    ChronoZoom travels the world

    It’s been a busy month for the ChronoZoom team, as we’ve zoomed (literally) around the world promoting this amazing tool. For those of you who are coming in late, here’s a little background: ChronoZoom is an open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. As such, it seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences and to enable a nearly inexhaustible repository of readily understandable and easily navigable information. By using Big History as the storyline, we hope to achieve a unified, interdisciplinary understanding of the history of the cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity, enabling users to understand the history of everything. Ambitious? Sure. But we’re committed to following the maxim of visionary urban planner Daniel Burnham, who said, “Make no little plans.”

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    Now, let me get back to the road story. Last month, I traveled to South Korea to launch ChronoZoom in Asia at the Asian Association of World Historians Conference. In Korea, I had the opportunity to represent the ChronoZoom team during a panel discussion about the “Evolution of Big History,” which was chaired by the father of Big History, David Christian of Macquarie University (check out his TED talk on Big History). Other participants included Big History leaders Craig Benjamin of Grand Valley State University, Cynthia Brown of Dominican University, Yue Sun of Capital Normal University, and Seohyung Kim of Ewha Womans University. This session served as a springboard for engaging the community of world historians in building out Asian histories in ChronoZoom. While in Korea, I was also excited to learn about pilot high school courses on Big History, some of which are using ChronoZoom in the classroom already!

    Last week, my ChronoZoom teammate, Michael Zyskowski, headed to Mexico to launch ChronoZoom in Latin America at the 2012 Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit. One of the highlights of the summit was the unveiling of a ChronoZoom timeline on Mayan history, covering the rise and fall of Mayan civilization and the ongoing history of ethnic Mayan identity. The content for this timeline was created by Felipe Gaytan and Camina Murillo from La Salle University in Mexico, and the results will, we are sure, encourage researchers to build additional tours and timelines of relevance to Latin America.

    As faithful readers of this blog know, ChronoZoom has been a joint effort of the University of California at Berkeley, which provided content and overall vision; Moscow State University, which authored 80 percent of the software; the Outercurve Foundation, which contributed intellectual property governance; and Microsoft Research Connections, which delivered technical expertise and collaboration oversight. And this month, we are excited to be adding the University of Washington iSchool, which will focus on content strategy and the data management taxonomy.

    As our trips to Asia and Latin America demonstrate, we are actively seeking additional participants for this community project. Professor Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow of the University of California at Berkeley have been touring various universities with me, seeking partners for ChronoZoom’s ambitious goals. In particular, we are looking for help from computer science departments and from scholars in the humanities and the sciences. Here, in a nutshell, is what we’re seeking:

    From computer science researchers and students: we need you to help us build the features and capabilities required for ChronoZoom to function optimally. In particular, we are seeking a computer science department to lead the technical side of the project and organize the community in collaboration with Microsoft Research. We are also looking for computer science departments to help us solve several difficult technical challenges involving content visualization, data management, and machine learning.

    From professors, researchers, and students in the humanities and sciences: we need subject matter experts who can work with us to make ChronoZoom the premier platform for chronicling the history of the humanities and the sciences, and for showing how these fields have cross-pollinated one another. We want your research, lectures, and content to be present in ChronoZoom, where this information will come to life and be shared with students, educators, and researchers around the world. We also seek your feedback and help in shaping the features and capabilities that will make ChronoZoom a great teaching and learning tool.

    You can find more details about these challenges in the “Big Questions” section of our ChronoZoom page. And in the “Potential Future Features” section, you’ll see where we’d like to take ChronoZoom in the months and years ahead.

    If you are interested in partnering with us, please contact

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

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    Summit Illuminates Computer Science Research in Latin America


    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


    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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