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June, 2012

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.

June, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Summit Illuminates Computer Science Research in Latin America

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    I’m back home after an exciting and inspiring Microsoft Research Latin American Faculty Summit, which took place in the Riviera Maya, Mexico, from May 23 to 25. The 2012 Latin American Faculty Summit marked the eighth edition of a research event that started as my “brainchild” in 2005. That first summit was held in Embu, a small town near the city of São Paulo, with a modest gathering of researchers mainly from Brazil. This fascinating journey continued with a sequence of annual events, each one raising the bar over the last. Over the years, the summits have taken full advantage of the beauty and variety of Latin America, being held in such fantastic locations as Guadalajara, Mexico; Gamboa, Panama; Cardales, Argentina; Guaruja, Brazil; Cartagena, Colombia; and finally the stunning Riviera Maya in Mexico.

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    Piramid of Kukulkan, Chichén Itzá (Ernesto Nava); Riviera Maya in Mexico

    More than that, however, the summits have taken advantage of the outstanding intellectual resources of Latin America. In the process, what began as a simple academic gathering has evolved into a premier research event that brings together representatives from academia, government, and industry. The summits are abuzz with high-powered participants, all eager to apply computer science to global challenges in disciplines as diverse as healthcare, energy, the environment, education, and sociology. Government participation has been solidified through formal partnerships with national research funding agencies, including SENACYT from Panama, FAPESP from Brazil, COLCIENCIAS from Colombia, and CONACYT from Mexico. Several summits were even inaugurated by the president of the host country, including the events in Panama, Argentina, and Colombia.

    As I look back over the just-concluded event, three highlights stand out. First, we were extremely honored that CONACYT agreed to partner with Microsoft Research in hosting this summit. This partnership ensured the participation of many prominent Mexican researchers, who presented their projects in the CONACYT Thematic Networks research track. Moreover, this partnership has generated several opportunities for collaboration between Microsoft Research and Mexican researchers.

    The second highlight was the presence of graduate students from Mexico, who in addition to attending the main event, also participated in three pre-event software engineering workshops. They greatly impressed the researchers from Microsoft with very cool demos that were created by using TouchDevelop technology. One of these students, Alisa Zhila from the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN), recently was honored as a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow. We were ecstatic that the summit could contribute to shaping a new generation of computer scientists in Mexico.

    The third highlight has to be the location. While summit attendees certainly enjoyed the scenic and tranquil beauty of the magnificent Riviera Maya, the local community also benefitted from the summit:  through invitations to participate in the event and also through their active involvement in projects that may help preserve the local cultural legacy. Summit discussions explored opportunities to involve local researchers and students in the preservation of their cultural heritage, the Mayan language, through Microsoft Translator Hub technology. And yet another important link to the region’s cultural legacy was forged at the summit with the plan to include historical milestones of the Mayan culture in ChronoZoom.

    This summit featured a variety of stimulating keynotes, talks, panels, workshops, and project demonstrations, but most importantly, it gathered people eager to work together to make this world a better place with the help of science and technology. In a very real sense, the event didn’t conclude last week. It will continue on through the substantial number of meetings, projects, collaborations, and agreements that it generated, all of which makes us very proud to say: What a successful and rewarding event!

    Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and the Caribbean, Microsoft Research Connections

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    New Forum Promotes Computer Science and Mathematics

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    Each year, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) presents the A.M. Turing Award, widely considered the “Nobel Prize of computer science.” As ACM’s European chairman, I had the privilege of signing an agreement that will extend the influence of Turing Award recipients in the years ahead. The agreement established the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, which will bring together Turing Award recipients and winners of the Abel Prize and Fields Medal, regarded as the most prestigious honors in mathematics, for an annual meeting with a select group of highly talented young researchers.

    The agreement about the establishment of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum was signed by the parties involved at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters on May 22, 2012. Pictured left to right, seated: Dr. Fabrizio Gagliardi, Professor Ingrid Daubechies, and Professor Øivind Andersen. Standing: Professor Nils Chr. Stenseth, Dr. Klaus Tschira, and H.E. Germany Ambassador Detlev Rünger. (Photo: Eirik Furu Baardsen)

    The agreement about the establishment of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum was signed by the parties involved at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters on May 22, 2012. Pictured left to right, seated: Dr. Fabrizio Gagliardi, Professor Ingrid Daubechies, and Professor Øivind Andersen. Standing: Professor Nils Chr. Stenseth, Dr. Klaus Tschira, and H.E. Germany Ambassador Detlev Rünger. (Photo: Eirik Furu Baardsen)

    The first meeting of the Heidelberg Laureate Forum will take place in September 2013, and it promises to be a stimulating venue for new ideas. As Klaus Tschira, the head of the eponymous Klaus Tschira Foundation (one of the organizations behind the forum) has observed, “Meeting with the scientific leaders of mathematics and computer science will be extremely inspiring and encouraging for the young scientists.”

    I’m very enthusiastic about this new forum because the relationships and interactions that can develop among the participants will benefit both the new generation of researchers and ACM Turing recipients. They will have the ability to share ideas, insights, and experiences through formal sessions and informal discussions, which are essential elements in the collaboration process that sustains research in computing science.

    Microsoft Research is proud of our long-time links with ACM and of the many Microsoft researchers who are ACM fellows and award recipients. We are excited about the new forum and look forward to working with ACM and other organizations to promote the next generation of computer scientists.

    Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa)

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    Conference in Beijing Spotlights Programming Languages

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    Performance, architecture, execution, bugs, and programs: these words are heard time and again in the context of a major computer science conference. So it was in Beijing this month at PLDI 2012, the conference on Programming Language Design and Implementation. Terminology and accompanying innovative ideas flew fast and furious as 600 academics, researchers from industry, and students gathered to discuss the latest advances in this fundamental field. PLDI is organized by ACM SIGPLAN (the Association of Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Programming Languages).

    Pictured from left to right: Lolan Song, Feng Zhaio, Jan Vitek, Haibo Lin, and Judith Bishop

    Pictured from left to right: Lolan Song, Feng Zhao, Jan Vitek, Haibo Lin, and Judith Bishop

    Although this was the thirty-third PLDI conference, it was the first to be held in Asia. Microsoft Research was proud to be the Gold Sponsor of the conference, and to celebrate the occasion, we organized a special open house to introduce participants to the work that goes on in our labs. Dr. Feng Zhao welcomed visitors to the beautiful Microsoft Research Asia lab with an overview of the work of the Beijing-based facility. The participants were then invited to a “DemoFest,” where 14 projects were on display: 13 from Microsoft Research labs around the world, and one from Tsinghua University. Many of these demos showcased the latest ideas about concurrency and the cloud, as well as the benefits of program analysis. There were also several projects illustrating end-user programming, such as TouchDevelop from Redmond and ClippyScript from Asia. See the full list of demos.

    With hundreds of computer science academics and students gathered together, PLDI presented a great opportunity to engage in discussion of the hands-on work of writing the compilers and creating the tools that make today’s glitzy devices and snazzy apps possible. Modern platforms and applications demand highly sophisticated optimizing compilers and analysis tools, and the advent of new processor technologies, such as multiple cores, GPUs, and mobile platforms, along with the increasing sophistication of development tools, all require mastery of cutting-edge compiler and code generation technologies. PLDI was the ideal place to connect with students who are drawn to such computer science specialties as hardware specific optimizations, whole program analysis, profile framework and profile driven optimization, working set optimization, static alias analysis, optimized code debugging, incremental re-compilation, register allocation, code security, or SIMD and GPU code generation, vectorization, and parallelization.

    Sriram Rajamani explains his poster.
    Sriram Rajamani explains his poster.

    Aside from presenting demos and connecting with friends old and new, Microsoft Research personnel also presented six papers and a tutorial that exemplify the high quality of our research. In addition, Microsoft researcher Rustan Leino and his colleagues were honored for having presented the most influential paper 10 years ago at PLDI 2002. That paper marked a turning point in the field of static checking, describing pragmatic design decisions that promote practicality over completeness. The techniques are now also widely used in various forms in Microsoft’s development tools—notably as part of Code Contracts, which ships with Microsoft Visual Studio.

    I greatly appreciated the assistance of our colleagues at Microsoft Research Asia in handling all of the local logistics, especially Lolan Song's team, as well as Stewart Tansley from my team.

    With so much science in my head, a quiet walk out to the Beijing’s Olympic Park was a great way to unwind. Beijing and PLDI certainly have a lot to offer!

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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