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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.

  • Microsoft Research Connections Blog

    DataUp—Data Curation for the Long Tail of Science

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    The long tail: sure, it’s a well-known concept in business and marketing, but there’s a very important “hidden” long tail in the sciences, too. So, what is this hidden long tail of science? It consists of the millions of datasets that are not stored in a databank and therefore are not available for use by other scientists. Every day, researchers throughout the world are observing, calculating, and compiling data, recording it all on their local machines within their labs—often not even as a shared resource to their institutions. Regrettably, much of this data never gets deposited in larger web-accessible data repositories where it could be reused by other investigators around the globe.

    Learn more about DataUp

    As a researcher myself and working with other researchers from around the globe, I am acutely aware of scientific data pain points; after all, those of us in the research community understand better than anyone that data preservation, curation, and sharing are critical for the advancement of scientific discovery. We want to share our data beyond our immediate groups, but many times we find ourselves hindered by a lack of tools and services designed to promote data curation and sharing.

    Enter DataUp, an open-source tool that helps us document, manage, and archive our tabular data. The DataUp project was born out of this need for seamless integration of data management into the researchers’ current workflows. The University of California Curation Center (UC3) at the California Digital Library (CDL), with sponsorship from Microsoft Research and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF), focused on creating a tool that could be used by researchers in the environmental sciences. They recognized that this field epitomizes the problems of data management and curation; in particular, the storage of data locally without data description (metadata)—such as where it was collected, by whom, and when—that would make it more usable by others.

    By conducting surveys at ecological and environmental science events, CDL found that the majority of these scientists use spreadsheets to collect and organize their data, so rather than make them learn a new program, UC3 recognized a need for a tool that works with a program most scientists already know: Microsoft Excel.

    From the results of further surveys, it was determined that about half of the scientists preferred a tool that would be installed on their laptop, while the other half wanted a web-based tool that they could use on any device. Well, we sponsors and the UC3 team were not about to let this divided preference thwart the creation of a much-needed tool, so, together, we decided that there needed to be two versions of the tool: an open-source add-in (extension) for Microsoft Excel, and an open-source web application.

    To achieve the project goals of facilitating data management, sharing, and archiving, both the add-in and the web application accomplish four main tasks:

    1. Perform a best-practices check to ensure good data organization
    2. Guide users through creation of metadata for their Excel file
    3. Help users obtain a unique identifier for their dataset
    4. Connect users to a major repository, where their data can be deposited and shared with others

    The California Digital Library established the initial repository, the ONEShare. Researchers will be able to find tools from the DataUp project as part of the Investigator Toolkit for DataONE.

    I want to thank Carly Strasser, Trisha Cruse, John Kunze, and Stephen Abrams from UC3 for their passion and commitment to bring DataUp to life. I also want to thank Chris Mentzel from GBMF for co-funding the project with Microsoft Research Connections.

    Now, get out there and DataUp!

    Kristin Tolle, Director, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Joint research center reaches new heights for environmental sciences

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    Joint research center reaches new heights for environmental sciences

    I enjoy being able to work in technology because it has the potential for great impact in a range of research areas. But, more specifically, I have the privilege to work with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil to achieve that goal. Together, Microsoft Research and FAPESP created a joint research center in 2006—the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research—that has been going strong ever since.

    The Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research supports high-quality fundamental research in information and communication technologies. In the beginning, the center focused on addressing social and economic development needs in the São Paulo region. However, in recent years, the research has focused primarily on learning about the environment by using advanced technologies.


    Fueling the Future: FAPESP

    I am very pleased to announce that the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research recently concluded its sixth request for proposal (RFP) cycle by selecting two winning proposals in the area of environmental sciences.

    The objective of the sixth RFP was to explore the application of computing science to the challenges of basic research in areas related to global climate change and the environmental sciences. Researchers worldwide acknowledge that technology can provide powerful tools for environmental research, benefiting society and aiding in the planet’s sustainability. As such, this request for proposals focused on turning data into knowledge.
    Respondents had the option of developing their own technology application or using an existing technology that was developed by Microsoft Research (for example, research accelerators that can be used to manage, publish, analyze, or visualize a research project, or new tools for science).

    The two winning proposals from the submissions received are:

    Towards an Understanding of Tipping Points within Tropical South American Biomes, submitted by Principal Investigator Ricardo Torres of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP)

    Combining New Technologies to Monitor Phenology from Leaves to Ecosystems, submitted by Principal Investigator Patrícia Morellato of the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP)

    Notably, Morellato’s project is a follow-up to the recently concluded e-Phenology project, which was selected under the fourth Microsoft Research-FAPESP RFP. The research team also submitted a proposal to the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science (CEES) team and was awarded with a set of Mataki sensors to monitor small animals in the location where they are already monitoring the vegetation. The goal of that project is to explore correlations between the vegetation and small animals’ behavior and to gather a more complete understanding of how the ecosystem functions.

    Congratulations to both the UNICAMP and UNESP teams on their winning submissions! I look forward to seeing the results of their research.

    —Juliana Salles, Senior Research Project Manager, Microsoft Research Connections

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    Microsoft issues RFP for Surface Hub

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    This past January, Microsoft revealed to the world Microsoft Surface Hub, a state-of-the-art, large-format, pen and touch computing device—think of it as a digital whiteboard on steroids—that empowers our enterprise customers to collaborate, brainstorm, and get insight into their data.

    This product brings together the very best of Microsoft capabilities, combining first-rate hardware in display, touch, and sensing, with a custom edition of Windows 10 specifically designed for communal scenarios, with integrated key productivity applications and services.

    How would you harness the potential of Microsoft Surface Hub?

    With Surface Hub, we are launching a completely new category of computing using the large screen for group productivity. This is a relatively young field with lots of greenfield opportunity, which is why we invite the academic research community to join us in advancing it. 

    Surface Hub has its roots in Perceptive Pixel, a company dedicated to multi-touch interfaces that formed out of my academic research at New York University Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Here at Microsoft, participation in and support of the research community has always been a core part of our culture even as we’ve advanced on our commercial mission. This RFP exemplifies the academic-industry collaboration that is a hallmark of Microsoft Research.

    On behalf of Microsoft Research and Microsoft Devices Group, I am thrilled to announce an RFP that will award a Surface Hub and up to US$25,000 to selected research proposals from qualified academic institutions.

    We look forward to receiving submissions in a range of domains, including core HCI techniques (such as inking and sketch-based interfaces, pen and touch, large-screen interaction, proxemics, and multi-modal interfaces), collaboration, information visualization, and technology in education/training.

    But what’s really great about Surface Hub is just how broadly its impact can reach. We are interested in proposals from any field, especially those that demonstrate alignment to Microsoft’s mission of productivity, and we expect rigorous work leading to novel contributions.

    To learn more about the RFP, please visit Surface Hub for Research. The deadline for proposal submissions is June 12.

    Jeff Han, General Manager for Microsoft Surface Hub

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