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September, 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.

September, 2012

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    Mapping Endangered Species

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    Endangered Species: Golden Lion TamarinWhat do the California condor, the snow leopard, and the Wollemi pine have in common? They’ve all made the least desirable position on one of the nature’s most important lists: the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Now, what do Microsoft and the Zoological Society of London have in common? They’re both Red List partners, working with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization—to help understand what species are endangered and why.

    The Microsoft partnership was made public at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea. The company is the first and only invited corporate partner for the Red List of Threatened Species.

    Why Microsoft? Is it because of the company’s technology prowess? Well certainly in part. But the request stems largely from the presence of a dedicated team of environmental scientists at Microsoft Research Cambridge. This team, the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group (CEES), is developing new concepts and methods to enable better predictions about our planet, and has been working with the IUCN on the science and tools to help support the IUCN Red List.

    Led by Lucas Joppa, the CEES team’s effort has created a Red List application that uses Microsoft SQL Server 2012 and Bing Maps to enable experts to map where species are found, the threats species face, and the interventions used to negate or prevent these threats. Such mapping is crucial to efforts to halt the seemingly inexorable march toward more extinctions.

    As Joppa explains, “We’re working with the IUCN Red List team to build an application that allows people to spatially map threats to species. Capturing this information is vital, and as a group of scientists in Microsoft Research, we understand both the scientific and technical challenges this involves.”

    The invitation from the IUCN recognizes the scientific expertise of the CEES team, notes Joppa. “What’s really exciting is that we are at the table as scientists, but with the depth and breadth of Microsoft to build on, in terms of people and technology. We feel like we can really make a positive difference.”

    The Red List application is actually just one of many environmental science tools developed by the CEES group, which works closely with Microsoft Research Connections to provide scientists around the world with tools that focus on data, modeling, and decision-support for the earth and environment. Please take a look at some of our other tools, all of which were made for scientists by scientists. These tools typify Microsoft Research’s commitment to provide resources that accelerate research and discovery and enable more effective transformation of data into decisions.
     
    Visit Earth, Energy, and Environment at Microsoft Research Connections to learn more about our collaborations with academic researchers and organizations worldwide.

    Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA

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    Users Attract New Users to WorldWide Telescope

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    I’ve done numerous public presentations of WorldWide Telescope (WWT) since 2008, but last month’s demos at the International Astronomical Union’s 2012 General Assembly (IAU2012) in Beijing were by far the most satisfying. Why? Because they were conducted primarily by student volunteers, eager to showcase the capabilities of WWT to potential users.

    The exhibition at IAU2012 lasted two weeks, from August 20 to 31. Most of that time, our booth was staffed by four future scientists: Qing Wang of China Central Normal University, Hope Chen and Chris Faesi of Harvard University, and Bing Bai of Chongqing University. These student volunteers impressed visitors with their knowledge and poise, and “wowed” them with their WWT demos.

    Student volunteers (left to right): Hope Chen, Bing Bai, Qing Wang, and Christopher Faesi
    Student volunteers (left to right): Hope Chen, Bing Bai, Qing Wang, and Christopher Faesi

    Chris summed up the visitors’ reactions nicely: “The most frequent comment I heard was some variation of ‘Wow—this is really free? That's amazing!’ I am quite certain that we raised awareness of WWT and generated a great impression of Microsoft.”
     
    Indeed, WWT is one of the best data and information visualization technologies from Microsoft Research, and, yes, it is free for academic use. Since its public release in early 2008, WWT has been adopted by a growing legion of astronomical researchers and science educators. The success of WWT at IAU2012, and the way we made it successful, marks a milestone of WWT outreach: the users are attracting more users. And that’s how we can grow a user community exponentially.

    Want to see what all the excitement is about? Then download WWT—like the IAU visitors said, it’s amazing. And free!
     
    My special thanks go to Professor Alyssa Goodman of Harvard University for recommending Hope Chen and Chris Faesi, to Professor Cuilan Qiao of China Central Normal University and Dr. Chenzhou Cui of the National Astronomical Observatory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for recommending Qing Wang and Bing Bai—and for providing guidance and support at the booth, and to Professor Jing Yang of Beijing Normal University and Ms. Haoyi Wan of the Beijing Planetarium for their support at the booth. 
     
    Yan Xu, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections 

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    Concurrency and Parallelism in the Venice of the North

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    The warm, sunny days of late August in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s “northern capital,” were made even brighter by the 2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School. An annual Microsoft Research event, the Russian Summer School is intended for doctoral and master’s students, as well as young scientists. This year, the program focused on concurrency and parallelism in software, and featured lectures from eight of the world’s foremost experts in this field. The school was co-chaired by Judith Bishop, the director of computer science at Microsoft Research, and Bertrand Meyer, professor of software engineering at ETH Zurich and St. Petersburg National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics, and Optics (ITMO).
     

    2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School participants
    2012 Microsoft Research Russian Summer School participants

    This year’s Russian Summer School follows the highly successful past schools: Computer Vision School 2011, MIDAS 2010, and HPC 2009. It represents another of the many collaborative efforts between Microsoft Research Connections and the world’s top research professionals and institutions.

    The school provided the participating students with a unique opportunity to learn from top scientists in the field of concurrency and parallelism. Lectures covered the fundamentals of the field and explored the latest research topics. The school also provided a great venue for interpersonal networking, enabling the students to establish connections with one another and with the school lecturers. Students had Sunday free to explore the beautiful city of Saint Petersburg—referred to as “Venice of the North” because of its picturesque canals—and carry on individual work.

    Competition for admission to the school was particularly intense. The number of registrations on the school website exceeded 600, and the overall acceptance rate was fewer than 10 percent. Most of the applicants were exceptionally strong, which made the decision process extremely difficult. The 60 admitted students came from 27 cities in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, and represented 47 academic institutions and companies. We are happy to report the continuing growth in the number of female students; women comprised more than 20 percent of this year’s class.

    Students were excited in their praise of the school’s program, which they found professionally stimulating and personally rewarding. They, and we, are looking forward to the 2013 Russian Summer School in Moscow!

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

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