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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

    A year of research in the cloud


    A year ago, the Microsoft Azure for Research project began as a small effort to help external researchers and scientists (and even Microsoft) understand how the cloud generally—and Microsoft Azure specifically—could accelerate research insights. Microsoft Azure for Research facilitates scholarly and scientific research by enabling researchers to take full advantage of the power and scalability of cloud computing for collaboration, computation, and data-intensive processing. Training events, online training, webcasts, and technical papers are just some of the resources the project provides to help researchers get up to speed with cloud computing.

    Microsoft Azure for Research celebrates a successful first year

    The project also features an award program, which provides qualified research proposals with substantial grants of Microsoft Azure storage and compute resources for one year. The response to the award program has been overwhelming. In the past year, we have received more than 700 proposals, with submissions from all seven continents—yes, there was even one proposal from researchers in Antarctica!

    I’m pleased to report that Microsoft Azure for Research has granted awards to more than half of the submitted project proposals, facilitating research in a wide range of disciplines, including computer science, biology, environmental science, genomics, and planetary science. The project clearly has tapped into the pent-up demand of researchers who want to focus their time and resources on solving complex problems rather than managing computing systems.

    And while we’re still in the early days of this transition of research to the cloud, the first results are encouraging. To cite just a couple of cloud-enabled outcomes, we’ve seen urbanologists analyze big data to create new traffic-prediction models, and we’ve watched researchers from an array of disciplines work to unravel the effects of climate change on surface flooding via the National Flood Interoperability Experiment. The results of these projects and the other 360 that have received Microsoft Azure for Research grants demonstrate that Azure is a powerful resource for scholarly and scientific researchers.

    If you have an idea for a cloud-enabled research project, we encourage you to apply for a Microsoft Azure for Research grant. The award program has a standing request for proposal (RFP) for any project that uses Microsoft Azure in research; these proposals are reviewed on the fifteenth of even-numbered months (February, April, June, August, October, and December). The program also issues special-opportunity RFPs, most of which have a set deadline for submission. Current special-opportunity RFPs and their deadlines include Azure Machine Learning (November 15, 2014), Climate Data (November 15, 2014), Food Resilience Climate Data (November 15, 2014), Celebration of Women in Computing (December 15, 2014), and Ebola Research (deadline is open-ended). Learn more about these RFPs.

    Dan Fay, Director, Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Third International Women’s Hackathon continues into December


    The Third International Women’s Hackathon is now in full swing, having launched on October 11, 2014. A unique crowdsourcing event designed to empower young women leaders in computer science, the hackathon provides a fun and safe environment in which participants explore computing as a means of solving real-world problems. This year’s hackathon should draw more participants than ever, because, in response to requests from several universities, worldwide local events can participate through December 12, 2014. This means that groups who couldn’t join the virtual event on October 11 can still get in on the action.

    This year, hackers are devising solutions for two worthy challenges—the Climate Data Challenge (PDF, 291 KB) and the Disaster Response Challenge (PDF, 291 KB)—sponsored, respectively, by the nonprofit organizations The Nature Conservancy and Direct Relief.

    At the hackathon kickoff (which took place in Phoenix, Arizona, during the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing), participants around the world worked on these challenges, connecting virtually with one another. Those of us in Arizona were excited to link up with female hackers in India, Japan, Nepal, England, South Africa, Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Kenya, and Trinidad & Tobago. (You can see the conversations on our Facebook page.)

    I was extremely impressed by the solutions produced by our local winners in Phoenix—Team Recovery and Team Cosmos.

    • In response to the Disaster Response Challenge, Team Recovery created a quiz to help disaster-relief volunteers understand such roles as fundraising and coordinating with government and nonprofit agencies. The team intends to develop this solution into an interactive game for their final entry in December.
    • In response to the Climate Data Challenge, Team Cosmos built a story game that walked users through the climate data wizard from Nature Conservancy, helping users understand what the data really means. Their goal is to help users make sense of climate change and to recognize what they can do to help preserve planet Earth for future generations.

    Other teams around the world came up with equally impressive solutions, and now, with the extended deadline, we look forward to even more innovative ideas from women hackers worldwide. We encourage you to find an event near you or start an event of your own. As an added benefit, hackathon participants can now submit their finished solutions to the Imagine Cup World Citizenship or Gaming challenges. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Microsoft Research diversity.

    Rane Johnson-Stempson, Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research

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    The warm heart of Chile embraces TouchDevelop and the Lab of Things


    Chile is a long way from Microsoft Research Redmond, but its bright, inquisitive students and talented, motivated professors share our fascination in the promise of innovative software technologies. Our shared values were on clear display when representatives from Microsoft Research visited the University of Chile and the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile on May 6, 2014. Such visits enable us to check our technologies in new environments, and they always raise interesting new avenues to pursue.

    Professor Sergio Ochoa was our host at the University of Chile, the country’s oldest and largest institution of higher learning, with approximately 38,000 students spread across a full range of academic divisions.  The University of Chile was founded in 1842, the first in the country, and now has students in a full range of faculties and schools. We met faculty who had come from all over the world, enriching the domains and standards of the opportunities for the students.

    At the University of Chile: Prof. Sergio Achoa, Dr. Michael Moskal, Dr. Judith Bishop, Prof. Maria Cecilia Bastarrica, Diego Muñoz, Prof. Alexandre Begel, Prof. Jeremy Barbay, and Dr. Mircea LunguAt the University of Chile, standing, from left: Prof. Sergio Ochoa, Dr. Michal Moskal, Dr. Judith Bishop, Prof. Maria Cecilia Bastarrica, Diego Muñoz, and Prof. Alexandre Begel. Kneeling from left: Prof. Jeremy Barbay and Dr. Mircea Lungu

    While there, we presented a workshop entitled, “TouchDevelop: Create Rich Mobile Cloud Apps on Your Device” to students from the computer sciences department. During the workshop, students peppered us with perceptive questions, particularly about the cloud experience that TouchDevelop offers. In explanation, Michal Moskal, a researcher at Microsoft Research, developed a chat program in TouchDevelop, showing how data can be given a “cloud” tag that makes it updateable by many users simultaneously.

    The obvious follow-up question was whether TouchDevelop could also enable several programmers to work on the same code simultaneously. We believe that teamwork is very important, and we were glad to be able to announce that this capability is being built into TouchDevelop and will be released soon.

    Students work on multiple platforms with TouchDevelop at the University of Chile.
    Students work on multiple platforms with TouchDevelop at the University of Chile.

    At the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Professor Andrés Neyem organized a workshop titled, “Lab of Things – Deploying Connected Devices for Research.” At the workshop, Arjmand Samuel and Ratul Mahajan, both from Microsoft Research, talked about the Lab of Things and how this platform could be used to scale up research that relies upon connected devices and sensors. Faculty and students who were present at the workshop raised interesting questions regarding the infrastructure, network protocols, and the security and privacy of data collected as part of such research. Professor Neyem also talked about his research interests in connecting healthcare devices in homes and beyond. Specifically, he showed a demonstration of a pulse-rate monitor that is being developed in collaboration with the university’s School of Nursing, which could be deployed to about 25 homes by using the Lab of Things.

    As eager as the students and faculty were at both universities, we came away just as enthused about possible links with these outstanding institutions. We look forward to working with the University of Chile to improve TouchDevelop and expand its reach, and to collaborating with the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in deploying the Internet of Things.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research

    Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research

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