Der deutsche Education Blog

December, 2010

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.

December, 2010

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Bioinformatics Tools Promote Life-Saving Research

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    On November 30, I appeared on Health Tech Today, where I chatted with Dr. Bill Crounse about the Microsoft Biology Foundation and how it will help scientists advance their research. This interview marks yet another opportunity for Microsoft External Research to spread the word about our open-source work in developing tools that, as Dr. Crounse noted, provide researchers with "the potential to discover amazing things and solve big problems." 

    Health Tech Today Video: Beatriz Diaz Acosta

    The heart of the interview was a discussion of the overarching goal of the Microsoft Biology Foundation, which is to develop a set of tools that enable researchers to more easily and effectively collaborate and thereby expedite new discoveries.  I explained how researchers around the world have come up with their own data formats—their own unique standards on how to encode, share, and work with data. They have developed all these individual languages, and now this profusion of tongues is impeding collaboration. In essence, we have a scientific cacophony, with researchers speaking different languages through the data.

    Through the Microsoft Biology Foundation, we're providing the building blocks to translate these many data files and formats into a common language. In addition to these file parsers, we also provide standard algorithms to assemble and align genetic sequence data, thereby obviating the need for each researcher to create his or her own unique version. Through these efforts, we're relieving researchers of onerous translation chores and allowing them to focus on solving real problems, like designing new drugs and developing new vaccines, which will ultimately save lives.

    As I discussed with Dr. Crounse, we're doing this by building an extensive and expandable library on the Microsoft .NET Framework, a technology that gives us the advantage of being interoperable with many different programming languages. I pointed out our goal of using tools like DeepZoom and Pivot to facilitate interactive visualization of massive quantities of data, such as the billions of base pairs found in the human genome. These new technologies have the potential to make it easier and more intuitive to identify patterns and spot outliers in the data. Such discoveries could lead to breakthroughs against some of the most feared diseases, including AIDS. I noted, in fact, how we are using the Microsoft Biology Foundation library to support David Heckerman's work in the eScience team at Microsoft Research, where they are working diligently to create a vaccine against HIV.

    I finished my interview with an appeal for medical researchers and biologists to visit www.research.microsoft.com/bio, where they can learn more about the Microsoft Biology Initiative and its open-source tools. As I noted, we need feedback from those working on the frontlines of medicine and biology in order to improve our tools and move forward in our quest to improve human health.

    —Beatriz Diaz Acosta, Senior Research Program Manager, Health and Wellbeing, the External Research division of Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Amplifying the Computer Science Education Message

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    In case you missed it, there was a great deal of passion expressed last week regarding the state of computer science education in our society. There were outreach efforts, programs highlighted, and a number of online discussions that ensued—overall, some really impressive growth in activity across the board over last year in broad awareness.

    I decided to use the opportunity to spend a bit more dedicated time catching up on some online reports, material, and people.

    I started with Alfred Thompson's blog. He writes one of the most widely-read and highly-respected blogs on computer science in K-12. A former high school teacher, Alfred is smart, funny, and honest, but most importantly he has an amazing talent for appreciating the perspective of today’s youth, a solid understanding of pedagogy, and a passion and talent for computer science. His blog is stop #1, #2, and #3 for me on this topic.

    Mark Guzdial's Computing Education Blog is usually where I spend my time next. Mark’s comments are usually more education-centric than Alfred’s more broad technology posts. As a professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, Mark sees, first-hand, the quality and quantity of students from our secondary school system. Mark is also very involved in the most active higher education debates on computer science and he frequently exchanges relevant opinions and ideas with other influencers in the field.

    I also took time to read the September 2010 update of "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," which is posted on the National Academies Press website. Sobering, alarming, convincing, and motivating. This revision is appropriate subtitled: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.

    Doing a bit of reflecting, and potentially stating the obvious ... the challenge is enormous and sometimes feels overwhelming, but it is also worth both support and action—even if the action seems small relative to the change needed.

    It is extremely satisfying to work for Microsoft in this situation because I feel that we are working toward the public good in this area and that I am a contributing member of these efforts.

    Microsoft supports thousands of people involved in outreach, including our own employees, who are frequent visitors and speakers at schools through a program called EduConnect, which enables Microsoft employees to share their knowledge and expertise with local school districts. We extend our outreach through the skills and enthusiasm of our Microsoft Student Partners—a program that recognizes top college students who are passionate about technology and communication, and equips them to share their computer know-how and enthusiasm. 

    We also attempt to motivate students through programs like the Imagine Cup and the upcoming Microsoft bliink 2011 web-design contest. Some students are more motivated by out-of-classroom learning situations and these programs encourage students to exercise both creativity and teamwork.

    Obviously, our efforts would not be complete without connection through social medial, and I believe the Microsoft Tech Student effort is the best of the lot.

    If you're a computer scientist, an IT professional, or simply a concerned citizen, I encourage you to get involved with your local schools and work to ensure that our students are getting the 21st-century education they need.

    —Jim Pinkelman, Senior Director in the External Research division of Microsoft Research

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  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Multicore Workshop Attendees Work to Integrate Software and Hardware for Optimal Performance and New Applications

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    Attendees at the Second Barcelona Multicore Workshop

    The latest innovations in multicore technology are meaningless if the software you run is not written to take advantage of the advanced hardware design. To help address this and other issues, attendees at the Second Barcelona Multicore Workshop (BMW) met October 21-22, 2010, to critically examine developments in computer chip technology in the two years since the highly successful 2008 workshop.

    Today, sequential chips are almost entirely superseded by multicore processors. The hardware community is focused on designing these processors to maximize the potential performance. Meanwhile, software developers need to know how best to program for machines that use this multicore technology, particularly when it is used for desktop workloads or on mobile devices rather than traditional scientific applications.

    To help understand and solve these concerns in a multidisciplinary manner, representatives from Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Hipeac, Microsoft Research, and academics and researchers from Europe, Asia, and the United States met and cross-fertilized ideas across the hardware and software communities. Many participants report that the conference sparked new plans for collaboration, including company partnerships with academia and the sharing of valuable tools and ideas.

    Among the key discussions were:

    • Parallel programming models for the Barrelfish research operating system that Microsoft Research has developed with ETH Zurich in Switzerland. Barrelfish treats the internals of a multi-processor machine as a distributed system: Each core runs independently, and they communicate via message passing. Project leaders are working with Barcelona Supercomputing Center to use their experience with the StarSs programming model to write parallel programs that run on Barrelfish.
    • How developers are using low-power vector processors to apply ideas originally developed for high-performance computing to applications such as face and speech recognition, machine-learning, and column-store databases that might run in the cloud or on future mobile devices.
    • Panelists attending "Can Software Keep Up with the Pace of Hardware Development?" discussed what can be done to address the readiness of the software industry to meet the multicore/heterogeneous hardware trends. One major discussion explored whether processor designers could help address the issue by focusing less on specific applications and single-use benchmarks and more on the operating system and need for hardware to efficiently support many different processes on the machine at the same time. "There is a growing sense among those who do research into system software that computer architects—those who design processors and other system components—need to change their focus," reports Timothy Roscoe of ETH Zurich. "This is partly because many commercially important workloads are now OS-intensive, and some current processor designs incur a high overhead when switching to kernel mode, and partly because as chips become more parallel, the need to coordinate multiple tasks and communicate between multiple applications on cores becomes a key performance bottleneck."

    —Tim Harris, Senior Researcher, System and Networking Group at Microsoft Research Cambridge

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