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The time for new faculty members to take risks in research is early in their careers. However, early-career realities often get in the way. As any tenure-track academic knows, the first few years of one’s career can be a seemingly endless process of writing grant proposals. The Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships liberate promising young researchers from this task, allowing them the freedom to conduct research to advance computer science in bold new directions with minimal distractions.
Each year since 2005, we’ve awarded the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowships to innovative and exceptionally talented, early-career faculty members from a variety of research institutions. The recently announced 2013 fellowships continue this tradition of supporting the brightest young academics in the field of computer science to pursue their visions and make an impact—a tangible manifestation of our commitment to collaborating with the scholarly community to use computing to solve global problems.
The seven 2013 Faculty Fellows were selected from four regions: (1) Latin America and the Caribbean; (2) Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; (3) the United States and Canada; and (4) Australia and New Zealand. All seven fellows are pursuing breakthrough, high-impact research that has the potential to help alleviate some of today’s most challenging problems. For example:
Joining Michael, Animashree, and Monica are:
With these awards, the Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship program now has provided support to 59 academic investigators whose exceptional talent for research and innovation in computer science identifies them as emerging leaders in their fields. As the computer industry’s leading research laboratory, we are committed to creating opportunities for researchers around the world to make an impact, and we are delighted to provide fellowships to advance the work of promising young faculty members.
—Jaime Puente, Director, Chair of Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship Program, Microsoft Research Connections
High in the mountains of northern Colombia live the Arhuaco, an indigenous people renowned for their stewardship of their rugged environment and the close-knit nature of their society. These remote people have traditionally resisted intrusions from the outside world, so one would not expect them to embrace technology as a means of preserving their way of life. But that’s just what’s happening, thanks to a remarkable collaboration among the Arhuaco, the Colombian government, and Microsoft.
Two Arhuaco community leaders pictured with Tony Hey and Rick Rashid (Microsoft Research), Jaime Restrepo (former director of Colombian Council of Science and Technology), and Orlando Ayala (Microsoft) at the 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit
In an ambitious and inspirational long-term project that aligns with the government’s priority for preservation and environmental sustainability, Microsoft Colombia has implemented a cloud-based solution that helps the Arhuaco preserve their culture and environment. The solution, which is based on customer relationship management (CRM) models and is operated by the Arhuaco themselves, keeps records of the Arhuaco people, lands, and sacred places. The online solution not only maintains these records, which are vital to the preservation of the biodiversity and indigenous culture of the region, but it also provides for autonomy and oversight by indigenous authorities.
How did technology become a strategic tool for this remote place, balancing traditional culture while taking advantage of the Arhuaco’s thousand-year knowledge of their environment? It did so deliberately and respectfully, through a three-year dialogue that built trust among all parties.
The journey began in 2010, when a memorandum of understanding was signed in the Arhuaco’s mountain homeland. With this in place, Microsoft Colombia established an experimental lab for learning and exchange of experiences with the Arhuaco culture. Later in early 2011, they established a joint venture with Microsoft Research to develop a series of digital narratives about the Arhuaco’s traditional culture by using Rich Interactive Narratives technologies (RIN). Then, in 2012, Microsoft Colombia hired Ruperto, an Arhuaco member, to serve as a liaison between Microsoft Colombia and the indigenous community.
This three-year period of developing mutual understanding culminated in the online CRM solution, which was first envisioned during the 2011 Latin American Faculty Summit held in Cartagena, Colombia, where the Arhuaco RIN story was demoed to the President of Colombia. The solution was the result of cross-group collaboration among several Microsoft groups, including Microsoft Research Connections in Latin America, Microsoft Research India, and Microsoft Colombia.
We view Microsoft’s partnership with the Arhuaco as just the beginning; we hope to continue helping them strengthen the autonomous management of their government, and to call upon the partnership’s experiences to help initiate projects with indigenous communities around the world. Putting technology in the service of cultural and environmental preservation—what an inspiring blend of the old and the new!
—Jaime Puente, Director, Microsoft Research Connections, Latin America
On June 11, 2013, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) launched the Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab at the university’s new Science and Engineering Center in the heart of Brisbane. This exciting venture will enable students to create software solutions for real-world problems—through emerging projects, such as Glycogen (a learning environment built for the One Laptop per Child initiative); through hackathons built around the D3.js visualization libraries, making open data in biology and healthcare visible to all; and through global competitions such as QUT’s Change the World series and Microsoft Imagine Cup.
The new Science and Engineering Centre (left) on the QUT campus
The launch represents the culmination of hard work by QUT, along with support from Microsoft Research, the Microsoft Australian subsidiary, Red Hat Asia Pacific, and Technology One, a Brisbane-based enterprise software company. Each of these partners sees value in working cooperatively on open-source projects, understanding the model of community driven projects operating hand-in-hand with commercial services and products. The launch activities included a keynote address by Pia Waugh, a veteran of the Australian open-source community and now a leading figure in such open-government initiatives as GovHack.
The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab will take a leading role in the .NET Bio project, an open-source library of common bioinformatics functions that simplifies the creation of life-science applications for the Windows platform. In fact, QUT students are already authoring extensions to the library’s core algorithms and developing new pattern-matching components that will allow complex, structured searches across genomes. Other students are working to link .NET Bio parsing and search capabilities to open-visualization tools, allowing better understanding of the structure of genomes and their regulatory systems.
The Open Source Software Group and Virtual Lab is located in QUT’s state-of-the-art Science and Engineering Center.
In one key project under development, QUT students are building a new toolset on top of .NET Bio to simplify population studies in human disease. The new tools will support the analysis of samples from multiple individuals by using next-generation sequencing techniques. These approaches, a variant of restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (better known as RADseq), allow identification of subtle genomic differences that are important markers of diseases. The .NET Bio library will provide an integrated platform for these analyses, with the important additional benefit of allowing direct interaction with tools such as Microsoft Excel, enabling researchers to capture and further analyze results in a familiar environment.
Microsoft Research is pleased to support QUT’s exciting open-source venture, and we will be looking for great things to emerge from Down Under!
—Simon Mercer, Director, Health and Wellbeing, Microsoft Research Connections