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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

    EPA Cooperative R&D: Technology for Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration


    “Despite its size, Puget Sound is ecologically delicate; and while its symptoms of trouble are not easily visible, they are undeniable and getting worse.”
    —The Puget Sound Partnership

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10 sign the agreement.We at Microsoft Research Connections have begun work on a cooperative research and development (R&D) project with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that centers on the restoration of large aquatic ecosystems, particularly Puget Sound. On Friday, November 30, we got together and put our respective imprimaturs on the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), the formal agreement for this partnership. Now all that remains is to do the actual work! Here are some details about the project, which was created under the auspices of the Federal Technology Transfer Act, and why it is so exciting for us.

    As you may know, we have a history—under the leadership of Vice President Tony Hey—of collaborating with researchers outside of Microsoft. Often, we collaborate with academicians doing research in computer science or—in my case—using technology to cope with environmental and geoscience data. We’re also very interested in how science registers in the public domain. For example: land-use policy can benefit from scientific insight, and we think that if technology can help scientists do data-intensive research, it should also help us manage resources, find better ways to preserve habitat, and better share this information with farmers, tribes, municipalities, and the general public. Taking an active role in the stewardship of our shared environment is what the EPA is about, so we began talking with them about working together.

    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.
    Tony Hey, vice president, Microsoft Research Connections, and Dennis McLerran, regional administrator, EPA Region 10, shake on the agreement.

    It can be difficult to comprehend how big our environment is and yet how tiny its essential elements are. Viewing Puget Sound from 40,000 feet above, it is a vast, beautiful expanse of waterways, inlets, islands, and peninsulas that are crisscrossed with the indelible stamp of cities, roads, and ferry boats supporting the lives of a few million people. Drop your perspective to the shoreline of Fir Island (Washington), and you find green strands of eelgrass washed up on the beach; under a microscope, these strands explode into millions of nodules of chlorophyll, the stuff that converts sunlight into sugar and powers the entire food web all the way up through the salmon. My point is that we inhabit the land and we depend on the health of our natural environment: from the great waterways we use for shipping to the smallest microbes and molecules. As the Puget Sound Partnership has stated, we have work to do to restore and protect the ecological health of Puget Sound, but where to begin?

    The idea of this new cooperative R&D project with the EPA is to explore how available data and technology might be fused to help us better understand and meet the needs of the restoration community, including the kinds of cooperative relationships the community members want to build between the public, the land-holders, the decision makers at the county and city level, and so on. From this learning perspective, we are confident that we can imagine and build proof-of-concept solutions that would be openly available for further development and adoption. For example, we imagine (from preliminary work) applying PhotoSynth technology to the challenge of creating a more robust depiction of the shoreline. Human-built structures like sea walls are distributed throughout Puget Sound and can impact habitat, particularly for grazing fish that spawn in shallow water. More broadly, we see similar efforts at organizations like the Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems (NANOOS) that aim to assemble and disseminate data about sea conditions, tides, and weather to help commercial fishing operations become more efficient.

    What more can be done? The opportunities are boundless! What is really exciting is that our colleagues at EPA and in the broader Puget Sound community share a passion for this work; we feel very fortunate to be a part of it and are enthusiastic about the opportunity to contribute.

    Rob Fatland, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Workshop launches joint research center in Spain


    With labs around the globe, Microsoft Research is ideally positioned to partner with leading academic and research institutes worldwide. One of the latest examples of this international cooperation is the Madrid Joint Research Center, a collaborative venture between Microsoft Research and the IMDEA Software Institute. Now we are pleased to announce the center’s inaugural activity: a software workshop that takes place April 2 to 4, 2014, at IMDEA Software Institute’s campus in Madrid.

    IMDEA Software Institute
    The Microsoft Research and IMDEA Software Institute Collaboration Workshop will bring together researchers from both partners and will focus on advances in verification, programming languages, and security. Thirty-six researchers and 20 students are involved in the collaboration, and, to date, some 20 papers have resulted from their joint work, with more in preparation.

    At a workshop that emphasizes collaboration, it is heartening to hear about joint work that has been completed, as well as proposals for new initiatives. A prime example of the first kind is will be described in the keynote by Alexy Gotsman from IMDEA. He will talk about a new framework and set of proofs that tighten up the semantics of modern databases underlying large-scale Internet services that guarantee immediate availability—a joint project from Microsoft Research, INRIA, and the University of Oxford.

    Said Manuel Hermenegildo, director of the institute, “Following the workshop, the center will broaden its reach to work with Microsoft in the following categories: cloud storage systems and mobile platforms; cloud/web security/malware detection; cryptography and privacy; concurrency, parallelism, and memory models; and programming languages and verification.”

    This will, we hope, be the first of many such workshops at the center, providing researchers and students a forum to discuss their collaborative work on hot topics in software. I am pleased to organize this joint research center with Georges Gonthier from Microsoft Research and Manuel Hermenegildo  and Gilles Barthe from IMDEA Software Institute.

    Learn more about the upcoming workshop.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    New online Windows Azure training for researchers


    The global Windows Azure for Research program has been going strong for almost six months, and we’ve been delighted by the response from the researchers around the world who have eagerly attended our in-person training events. Today, we are pleased to announce an online version of the training.

    Now any researcher can learn how to harness the power of Windows Azure—an open and flexible global cloud platform that supports any language, tool, or framework, and is ideally suited to the needs of researchers across disciplines. Think of it as your personal, data-crunching robot in the cloud.

    On-demand training for data-intensive computing

    The in-person training classes have taught hundreds of researchers how to take advantage of the computational and collaborative power of Windows Azure for data-intensive investigations. The online class provides a condensed version of this training, customizable for a personalized learning plan and complemented by the in-depth content in our webinar series.

    The online materials now available include six videos, which range from 10 to 20 minutes long. Together, they provide a comprehensive but highly efficient way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research. Anyone with an Internet connection can access these free training resources—anywhere, anytime, on demand.

    A live class is still recommended as the most effective way to learn how to use Windows Azure for research because it provides the benefits of an experienced trainer, interactive dialogue, and greater depth. But not everyone can attend a class, so we hope the online course will enable even more researchers to explore how cloud computing can accelerate their research. For those interested in attending an in-person training course, please see the training schedule for 2014.

    The training course, online or in-person, is intended specifically for active scientists who are interested in coding in a modern computing context, as well as for computer scientists who are working with such researchers.

    Before you race off to view the online training videos, I want to remind you about the Windows Azure for Research Awards, which offer a one-year allocation of Windows Azure storage and compute resources to winning proposals. The deadline for submitting proposals for the next round of awards is April 15, so don’t procrastinate.

    Dan Fay, Director, Science Research Engagements, Microsoft Research

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