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March, 2011

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.

March, 2011

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Computer Science Research Tools Excite Faculty at SIGCSE

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    From March 9-12, a group of Microsoft researchers had their wares on display at SIGCSE 2011, this year's annual convention of the Association for Computing Machinery's Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (ACM SIGCSE). Held in Dallas, SIGCSE 2011 attracted some 1,200 participants from all over the world, making it the year's biggest computer science education conference.

    SIGCSE 2011

    The passion to develop applications is never more evident than among young people, and educators know they must run to keep up with the latest trends to get the best out of their keen students. It is this sense of urgency that I felt in the halls and venues at SIGCSE, as faculty debated such questions as "What is the next language?" "How can we incorporate parallelism or robotics or gaming?" and "How do we train enough teachers to get enough students to fill the talent pipeline?"

    Standing in the constantly-busy Microsoft booth at SIGCSE 2011, it did seem as if we had a good number of answers. At the .NET Gadgeteer stand, sound, pictures, and robots combined to appeal to people who thought they wouldn't want to be programmers. Fortunately, .NET Gadgeteer will be available to the public mid-year 2011.

    Those visiting Pex4Fun immediately saw it as a means to reach out to students after classes are over, keeping them engaged with coding puzzles. Pex4Fun is available online for free. Many academics recognized the potential of taking the technology to the next ubiquitous platform, mobile devices.  Watch the PEX4FUN Windows Phone 7: A Mobile Game for Programmers video on Channel 9.  

    Another Microsoft demo, Try F#, elicited this from Jan Cuny, director at the National Science Foundation and a staunch advocate for more teachers of computer science at K-12 levels: "In schools and classrooms where the computer platforms are heterogeneous, a browser-based approach is going to help enormously to provide access for all to the new technologies. This solution will be particularly valuable in low-resourced schools where it is difficult to load and maintain a variety of software."

    One of the joys of SIGCSE is bumping into old friends. Doug Blank from Bryn Mawr—who for several years was part of the Institute for Personal Robots in Education (IPRE), introducing robotics to students—now has a system that takes advantage of the dynamic language runtime of Microsoft .NET to bring C#, Python, Ruby, Scheme, and other languages to students so they can write scripts to drive robots, and more. The striking similarities between his system, Pyjama, and Try F# mean that we can learn from each other and connect up again. IPRE participated in the cool, 40-robot Robot Hoedown. Since SIGCSE, Doug informs us that he has added support for F# to Pyjama; as I said—dedicated educators certainly move fast.

    On the last day, the winners of the SIGCSE ACM Student Research Contest, sponsored by Microsoft Research, were announced. Judging from the posters, the standard has certainly risen steadily over the past ten years. Several of the students presented work done as members of teams, but the awards are given for their own individual contribution. In this way, Microsoft encourages collaboration and rewards excellence. It is through collaboration that the strength of Microsoft Research is amplified, and our future is with the faculty of tomorrow.

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    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Microsoft Research and TWAS-AAS Recognize Outstanding Young African Scientists

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    (from left to right) Fayçal Djeffal, Konrad Scheffler, Moustafa Youssef received the 2010 TWAS-AAS-Microsoft Award in a ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya.

    (from left to right) Fayçal Djeffal, Konrad Scheffler, Moustafa Youssef received the
    2010 TWAS-AAS-Microsoft Award in a ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya.

    On February 26, 2011, three African scientists received the 2010 TWAS-AAS-Microsoft Award in a ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya. The award, funded by Microsoft Research Connections, recognizes outstanding research in computer sciences that was conducted by African scientists and has had—or promises to have—an impact on the developing world. The award was established in 2009 as a partnership among Microsoft Research; TWAS, the academy of sciences for the developing world; and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS). This year's winners, each of whom received a cash prize of €7,000, are:

    Fayçal Djeffal, associate professor in the Department of Electronics, Faculty of Technology, at the University of Batna in Batna, Algeria. Djeffal was recognized for his contributions to the development of new approaches to study nanoscale electronic devices and circuits. His research group developed a series of novel soft-computing-based approaches (neural networks, genetic algorithms, particle-swarm computations, neural-space mapping, fuzzy logic, and experts systems) for the modeling of nanoscale electronics devices, now widely employed in many research laboratories.

    Konrad Scheffler, associate professor in the Computer Science Division, Department of Mathematical Sciences, Stellenbosch University, in Matieland, South Africa. Scheffler was honored for his contributions to the fields of bioinformatics and computational biology, particularly the modeling of molecular evolution in HIV and other organisms. His work applies computational techniques and probabilistic modeling to gain insight into the selective forces that drive the evolution of HIV as it adapts to changes in its environment; for example, changes resulting from drugs aimed at suppressing the virus or from the different immune systems of its hosts.

    Moustafa Youssef, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Egypt-Japan University of Science and Technology (E-JUST), in Alexandria, Egypt. Youssef was recognized for his contributions to the fields of mobile and wireless networks, particularly in the design, analysis, and implementation of location determination systems. His work covers different layers of the protocol stack from the physical layer up to the application layer, with specific projects that target location determination systems, sensor networks, protocol modeling and analysis, peer-to-peer systems, network measurements, and security.

    The TWAS-AAS-Microsoft Award is open to researchers of any nationality, provided they have resided in Africa for at least two years prior to their nomination. In addition, nominees must have received their most recent degree—either a master's or a doctorate—within the previous 10 years. The selection of winners is handled by TWAS in collaboration with AAS. As noted above, the award is funded by Microsoft Research Connections, the division of Microsoft Research that drives collaboration with academic researchers and institutions.

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    —Luisa Marie Küppers, EMEA Business Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Free MBF Workshop at RENCI in North Carolina

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    Microsoft Biology FoundationWe recently posted a preview of the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) for development evaluation purposes. Now, we're following up with a special, free, two-day MBF workshop from April 19 to 20, 2011, at the Renaissance Computing Institute in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, hosted by the Microsoft Biology Initiative. The workshop includes a quick introduction to Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, the Microsoft .NET Framework, C#, and the MBF Object Model. Plus, our hands-on lab will give you the opportunity to write a sample application that employs the file parsers, algorithms, and web connectors in MBF. For complete details about the event, or to register, please see the MBF Workshop website.

    We will also cover some MBF training modules throughout the day, including:

    • Module 1: Introduction to Visual Studio 2010 and C#. This comprehensive introduction to the Microsoft Visual Studio programming environment and Microsoft .NET will teach you how to create a project, get started with C#, and perform runtime debugging. Also, you will get hands-on lab experience by building applications in Visual Studio 2010.
    • Module 2: Introduction to the Microsoft Biology Foundation. This overview will introduce you to MBF basics through discussions of its scenarios and architectures and includes a starter project. The starter project is a hands-on lab that will help you get the experience you need to work with sequences, parsers, formatters, and the transcription algorithm that is supplied in MBF.
    • Module 3: Working with Sequences. In this module, you'll learn more about the Sequence data type in MBF, including how to load sequences into memory and save them, the different sequence types that are available, how to use sequence metadata, and how data virtualization support enables support for large data sets in a hands-on lab setting.
    • Module 4: Parsers and Formatters. In Parsers and Formatters, you'll explore MBF's built-in sequence parsers, formatters, alphabets, and encoders. This module will also introduce the method of expanding MBF with custom alphabets, parsers, and formatters. The hands-on lab will walk you through the steps that are required to build a simple custom parser and formatter for a fabricated biology data format.
    • Module 5: Algorithms. In this module, you will examine the algorithms that are defined in MBF for sequence alignment, multi-sequence alignment, sequence fragment assembly, transcription, translation, and pattern matching against sequences. You'll also learn how to create custom algorithms. The hands-on lab will walk you through the steps that are required to build an application to run algorithms against sequences loaded with MBF and will teach you how to perform sequence alignment, assembly, and transformations.
    • Module 6: Web Services. This module will introduce Microsoft .NET web services, the web service architecture in MBF, the built-in web service support in MBF for BLAST (Basic Local Alignment Search Tool), and ClustalW. You will also learn how to call these services asynchronously and build custom service wrappers. In the hands-on lab, you'll build an application that executes the BLAST algorithm by using web services against handlers for BLAST, pass sequences and sequence fragments to BLAST, change the BLAST parameters, and display the results from a BLAST run.

    We hope you will join us for this free two-day event. Whether your goal is to get trained on MBF or simply to evaluate MBF and its Microsoft .NET model, you can expect to get a tremendous return on your time investment.

    We look forward to meeting you on April 19 in Chapel Hill.

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     Swatee Surve, Research Program Manager, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections

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