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May, 2010

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.

May, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Monitoring the Brazilian Rainforest with a Sensor Network


    The view from one of the research towers looking out into the Serra do Mar state park. From up here, a rich, diverse rainforest greets scientists as far as the eye can see. Yet only about eight percent of the original Atlantic rainforest survives today.

    Last week, at the Microsoft Research sixth annual Latin American Faculty Summit in Guaruja, Brazil, Rob Fatland, program manager with Microsoft Research, and Humberto da Rocha, professor in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the Universidade de São Paulo, led an intriguing presentation about their Atlantic Rainforest Micrometeorology Sensor Network Pilot Study. It’s a study that took place a mere 130 miles from where the Faculty Summit was held—a local project that could have broad environmental impact worldwide.

    It all began about a year and a half ago when representatives from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) asked Microsoft Research for assistance in developing a senor network with capabilities of operating under rainforest conditions.  The inquiry led  us to reach out to our colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, where a wireless sensor network program called Life Under Your Feet was previously developed, in collaboration with Microsoft Research, for soil-ecology research. So in October 2008, Microsoft Research brought the necessary experts and organizations together and this rainforest study was born.

    The project was guided by three broad goals: first, to create a scientifically valid data set; second, to successfully engineer the project so that the technology could function fully in settings as challenging as a rainforest; and third, to develop a system that can serve as a model and be replicated in other research.



    The Atlantic rainforest study site includes this 60-meter tower as well as five additional smaller towers, which are used for environmental research.

    As a result of this close collaboration between researchers and scientists at Microsoft Research, Johns Hopkins University, and Universidad de São Paulo, the sensor network was deployed for four weeks in the rainforest, where it captured data every 30 seconds on the temperature, humidity and light throughout the canopy. In addition, a weather station recorded the staples of meteorology: rainfall, wind conditions and barometric pressure.

    The result was that the team gathered an incredibly large and accurate data set that scientists are now analyzing to help them understand rainforest ecosystems. Additionally, the technology we’ve used in this study could be applied to a variety of situations across the globe, such as monitoring receding glaciers in the Arctic or measuring seismic activity for better earthquake predictions. 


    Researcher Helber DeFreitas is installing a sensor mote. The mote (short for remote device) has four sensors attached to measure temperature, water vapor, and solar radiation. Innovative “duty cycling” technology from Johns Hopkins University will allow the devices to collect measurements for two seconds every 30 seconds and then power down to save battery life.

    As researchers, we understand that our planet and our climate are undergoing change. Our challenge is that there’s still so much science can’t tell us—so many details that aren’t understood due to lack of data. This Atlantic rainforest project is one example of science and technology working together to understand a complex ecosystem.

    Regardless of where we live, this type of research is a benefit for us all. For more information and to see a video of the Atlantic rainforest research site, you can visit our Atlantic Rainforest project page.

    Dan Fay, director, Earth, Energy, and Environment, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Software Engineering Innovation Foundation Announces Awards


    "Software Engineering!? What do I know of computers and software?" So said Archbishop Tutu as he welcomed 700 computer scientists to the 32nd annual International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE), held the first week of May in Cape Town, South Africa. The venerable icon, Nobel prize winner and champion of human rights went on to add "I am not so old or disconnected from the modern world that I don't realise that computers and software permeate every aspect of our modern lives and ... that technology can be enabling and can play a crucial role in raising educational standards, in improving the quality of life and in helping commerce and industry." It is these three aspects - education, life and industry - that the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF) Awards were set up to address. And it was indeed fitting that they were presented at the ICSE conference where several of the 12 recipients were present.

    Watch the introduction at ICSE from Archbishop Tutu


    The SEIF Awards are a joint initiative between the Computer Science team of Microsoft External Research, the Research in Software Engineering Group (RiSE) and the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 team. Microsoft aimed to partner with the worldwide academic community to advance the tools and technologies that are used in and with Visual Studio 2010. A total of 85 submissions were received and after a rigorous evaluation process, we chose 12 projects to support for a year. In May 2011, the community will get together at ICSE 2011 in Hawaii for a workshop to share the results of their work. The submitted projects came from all over the world. Of the winning projects, four were from North America, three each from Europe and South America and one each from China and India.  

    A strong focus of the work from RiSE is detecting, correcting and preventing bugs in code. Sunghun Kim of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology proposes to first integrate a state-of-the-art bug prediction algorithm, called Change Classification, into Visual Studio 2010, so that developers will be quickly notified (using colored underlines) about code areas that are predicted to be buggy. Kim describes his method as seeming like a guardian angel looking over your shoulder, pointing out bugs and suggesting plausible fixes. 


    From left: Jane Prey (Director of Gender Diversity, MSR), Yuriy Brun and Reid Holmes (representing David Notkin), Alessandro Orso, Nachi Nagappan (MSR), Gail Murphy, Stefano Tonetta, Wolfram Schulte (Research Area Manager, RiSE Group), Karin Breitman, Guido de Caso (with Uchitel), Sebastien Uchitel

    Closer to home, at the University of Washington, David Notkin and his students plan to explore the role speculation can play in software development. Their interest in speculation has been piqued both by the potential availability of using "cycles for quality" (e.g., from multi-core) and also by the need for breakthroughs in how environments augment the abilities of developers. Their goal is to warn a developer, as early as possible, that changes in code will conflict with the work of another developer on their team. By limiting or avoiding these conflicts, they hope to decrease the amount of time spent fixing "broken" builds, enabling developers to focus more directly on their tasks rather than source-control management (SCM) problems. Implementing the approach will involve combining a simplified abstract model of SCM systems to derive a common interface that can manage the kinds of conflicts they would like to detect, and building specific SCM connectors (e.g., for Microsoft's Team Foundation Server, or  CodePlex's Mercurial source control repository) that can interact with the variety of SCM systems used by real projects. Notkin and his students aim to build a user interface specifically for Visual Studio 2010, that can be used to alert developers when their actions conflict with other development trees.

    In the education space, Pankaj Jalote at IIIT-D in Delhi is of the opinion that an introductory course in software engineering in a computer science program remains one of the hardest subjects to teach. While focusing on concepts and techniques is essential, there is often not sufficient time for the tools to be given the appropriate amount of attention. Real software engineering is now very tool intensive and a large set of tools is needed to cover the different aspects of the software development lifecycle - including requirements modeling, requirements documentation, project planning, design, coding related, code management and those related to testing. Generally a host of different tools might be used in a project, coming from a variety of sources. This project will develop a prototype course done almost fully within Visual Studio 2010, with its existing rich tool set, while also integrating other tools such as spreadsheets. Jalote maintains that using Visual Studio 2010 can have a major impact on the teaching: besides mastering the concepts and techniques, students will also learn through the use of a proper environment and tools how software is really developed, and will gain skills that are highly desired by the industry.

    These are just some of the projects for 2010/11. For a full list of projects, as well as announcements for SEIF II stay tuned to our website and blog.

    Judith Bishop, director, Computer Science, Microsoft External Research

  • Microsoft Research Outreach Blog

    Microsoft’s External Research Symposium: Where Diversity Accelerates Discovery


    At the heart of all great research there are two key components: learning and collaboration. Last month, at Microsoft’s External Research Symposium, there was an abundance of each. In addition to being an incredibly interesting two days, the symposium plays a significant role in our mission to harness the power of science and technology to improve lives around the world.  


    Over the course of the two-day event, more than 130 research professionals from around the world gathered with members of the Microsoft Research team to share the latest discoveries and challenges from projects focused on an impressive range of topics.  There were more than 30 presentations of projects that delve deeply into astronomy, computational biology, forest fire management, genetics, robotics and much more.  


    For those of us at Microsoft Research, this gathering provided an opportunity to hear directly from researchers involved in projects we are supporting with financial and/or technical assistance. This year, a few of the topics included, diversity in computing, using computational biology to better understand ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), as well as the recently launched Chemistry Add-in for Word (Chem4Word), which has surpassed 100,000 downloads in just a short period of time. During the two days we spent together we learned not only about the progress of projects, but also about opportunities for further collaboration, which often arise beyond the original scope of a project.


    For those who presented their projects at the symposium, the benefits are equally compelling. Researchers who attend the symposium often discover, by sharing ideas and information with other researchers, how some of the same technologies already in use can be leveraged in different ways, often across disciplines. Diversity accelerates discovery, and at Microsoft’s External Research Symposium it’s not unusual to witness astronomers learning from biologists, oceanographers from chemists, and vice versa on how to use technological tools to extend the boundaries of their research.


    With the success of the ER Symposium freshly on our minds, we at Microsoft Research are looking forward to continuing the worldwide collaboration effort next week, May 12 – 14, when Microsoft Research hosts the sixth annual Latin American Faculty Summit in Guarujá, Brazil, themed “Computing: Making the Difference.” Among many others, the summit will feature research collaborators who shared their findings at last month’s symposium. Claudia M. Bauzer of the University of Campinas will continue to share findings from the multidisciplinary research project called e-farms, which bridges computer science and agriculture. In addition to getting a sneak peak at this innovative project, nearly all the presentations given at the symposium are posted, including: David Heckerman’s pivotal HIV vaccine research, Joe Townsend’s energetic talk on the Chemistry Add-in for Word and Professor Jeremy Baumberg’s intriguing presentation on “MetaSurfacing with the Surface”.


    I invite you to learn more about the research shared at the symposium, which is being guided by some of the finest scientists working today. And please watch this blog next week for more information from the summit in Brazil.


    External Research Team

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