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Punctuating the gray skies and rain that typify spring in the Pacific Northwest, the first week of April brought a sunny gathering of data scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to Microsoft’s Redmond campus, where the second annual Open Data for Open Science workshop, or ODOS2012, took place. With overwhelming support from Microsoft product groups, Microsoft Research labs, and the Microsoft Research Connections team, the workshop featured a compelling agenda that attracted a full house of eager and excited attendees. The results greatly exceeded our expectations!
Some of the ODOS2012 attendees—eager and excited about the event
ODOS2012 brought together two distinguished groups: (1) Microsoft researchers and engineers who are working on cutting-edge computing technologies, and (2) leading academic and government scientists who are conducting environmental research using big data. The latter group comprised about 40 attendees, including international participants from Australia, Brazil, China, and Canada.
The agenda covered 26 topics on various Microsoft products, Microsoft Research technologies, and Microsoft Research collaborations with academia and governments worldwide. The technologies presented are components of Microsoft Environmental Informatics Frameworks (EIF), which is a strategy designed to use state-of-the-art computing technologies from Microsoft in solving the computational challenges of today’s big-data sciences.
Some of the demos were developed by applying Microsoft technology on data and scenarios provided by the research collaborators, and some were spontaneous showcases presented by the external attendees. The workshop not only demonstrated visually powerful technologies, including WorldWide Telescope, ChronoZoom, and PivotViewer, but also helped push computational practices to the next level by engaging the user community with core computing technologies such as OData and Windows Azure.
The presentation, New Tools for Environmental Science by Lucas Joppa, a collective contribution from Microsoft Research Cambridge (UK) to the ODOS2012 agenda, is worth noting in particular for couple of reasons: 1) the presentation generated an enlightening awareness of the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science initiative among the audience. 2) Lucas delivered his entire presentation in Cambridge via Skype and had seamlessly effective Q&A interaction with the audience. With such a successful online interactive presentation experience, we plan to enrich our future ODOS event agenda by including more remote presentations.
The attendees’ enthusiasm was obvious, with many of them telling me, “This is eye opening!” and others writing glowing evaluations of the event. John Willson, an environmental informatics researcher from Canada, called it “…the best information payload on CS & the environment I have received in a decade…well organized, well presented, heavy content, simulating attendees…just a great workshop with lots of relevant ideas.”
We are already looking forward to next year’s Open Data for Open Science workshop, and we encourage all environmental researchers to use EIF and share your experiences with us. Next year, you could be presenting at ODOS as we continue to explore the use of technology in tackling the big-data problems of environmental science.
—Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
With spring in the air, I am excited to be heading to Seoul, South Korea, to attend the Second Congress of the Asian Association of World Historians, which runs from April 27 to 29, 2012. There, I will have the honor of overseeing the Asian launch of ChronoZoom—the open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. This is a perfect venue for our Asian launch, since the conference’s featured themes, Global Exchange Networks of Asia and Alternative Modernities in Asia, will offer content that should come alive in ChronoZoom.
Rane Johnson demos ChronoZoom beta
As you may recall, the ChronoZoom beta version was released this March. A joint effort of the University of California, Berkeley; Moscow State University; the Outercurve Foundation; and Microsoft Research Connections, ChronoZoom provides resources that advance the study of Big History—the ambitious attempt to achieve a unified, interdisciplinary understanding of the history of the cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity. By using Big History as the storyline, ChronoZoom seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences and to enable a nearly inexhaustible repository of readily understandable and easily navigable information.
I am especially looking forward to our session on “The Evolution of Big History,” which will be chaired by the father of Big History, David Christian of Macquarie University (check out his TED talk on Big History). Other participants will include 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, as well as me, on behalf of the ChronoZoom team. This session should serve as a springboard for engaging the community of world historians in building out Asian histories in ChronoZoom.
As the lead for Microsoft Research’s efforts to grow the participation of women in computing, I am also thrilled that the conference is being hosted by Ewha Womans University’s Institute of World and Global History. Founded by a female American missionary in 1886, Ewha is the largest women’s university in the world, with some 23,000 students, 900 faculty members, and 180,000 alumnae as of 2010. The Ewha Campus Complex, the site of the conference, is a breathtaking architectural work that earned the Seoul Metropolitan City Award in 2008.
While at Ewha, I intend to meet with professors and students in the humanities and computer science, inviting them to be part of ChronoZoom’s transformation of how the humanities and sciences work together. I’m sure they can help us grow both the content and tool capabilities in the next phase of this amazing open-source community project, much as our academic collaborators at the University of California at Berkeley and Moscow State University did.
I am looking forward to getting back to you later this month to share how my trip went and tell you about new ChronoZoom collaborations with top research partners in Asia.
—Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communications Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections
What do residents of rural Arkansas and researchers in Trento, Italy, have in common, aside, perhaps, from a love of good food? Well, in the case of an ongoing major research program, food is the common link. Well, not exactly food—the good folks in Arkansas aren’t exchanging recipes with the scientists in northern Italy—rather, both groups are actively involved in the Delta Obesity Prevention Vitamin Study, which seeks to unravel the complex molecular nutritional interplay of diet, exercise, genetics, and obesity.
The study’s long-term goal is to create dietary guidelines that will reduce the incidence of obesity and its related chronic diseases among the residents of the Lower Mississippi Delta, a region of the southern United States that is plagued by corpulence and its complications. The research program is among the first of its kind, since it combines community-based participatory research with translational biomedical strategies that include molecular genetic nutrition research. The results could have far-reaching implications, not just for the rural populations of the Lower Mississippi Delta, but also for national and international public health agencies that seek to prevent and treat obesity.
Study participants at an Arkansas summer camp
The study tracks the health and habits of a group of adults and children in Marvell, Arkansas, looking for links between obesity and diet, physical activity, genetics, and body chemistry. A joint effort of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Delta Obesity Prevention Research Unit, the study has turned to The Microsoft Research – University of Trento Centre for Computational and Systems Biology (COSBI) for analysis of the complex molecular data.
Data on the Arkansas participants were compiled at the outset of the study, at the end of a five-week intervention with a more nutritious diet, and one month after the completion of the intervention. The joint analysis of the resulting extensive and complex body of data has been possible thanks to the network biology competencies of COSBI. By using their unique capabilities in molecular nutrition, the researchers at COSBI are analyzing data about the participants’ genotype, habitual diet, blood metabolite levels, and DNA methylation to help elucidate the molecular bases of obesity. If successful, the project could eventually make it possible for medical professionals to provide patients with dietary advice that is tailored to each person’s specific genome.
COSBI is a joint venture between Microsoft Research and the University of Trento; established in 2005, the centre focuses on the convergence of the life science and computer science, with a goal of understanding biological principles at all levels, from molecules to ecosystems.
—Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)