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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.

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    Microsoft Research unveils next generation of WorldWide Telescope at 11th Annual Faculty Summit

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    Great discoveries are often the result of collaboration, and for three days this week, during the Microsoft Research Faculty Summit 2010, more than 350 attendees representing various universities, industries, and governmental agencies are gathering to combine forces. Participants will be looking to foster collaboration that advances research, inspires technological innovation, enhances the educational experience and cultivates the next generation of thought leaders.

    Held at Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. and hosted by Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research, the summit will feature the introduction of new technologies focused on space exploration as well as the announcement of the winners of the 2010 Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship grants, which provide $1.4 million in funding each year to support professors who are exploring high-impact research that has the potential to help solve some of today's most challenging problems.

    The theme of this year's summit, Embracing Complexity, aptly describes the work underlying the new Terapixel technology in the Microsoft Research WorldWide Telescope. Terapixel is the largest, seamless, spherical map of the sky ever created. It will provide scientists with the ability to navigate through space dynamically to make their own discoveries. Created from data provided by the Digitized Sky Survey-a collection of thousands of images taken over a period of 50 years by two ground-based survey telescopes--Terapixel offers a complete, panoramic rendering of the night sky that, if displayed at full size, would require 50,000 high-definition televisions to view. Terapixel draws on the power of the Trident workflow workbench and the DryadLINQ interface for .NET to combine thousands of images and systematically remove differences in exposure, brightness, and color saturation.

     

    The clearly tiled view of a portion of the night sky (left) is rendered seamless by the Terapixel smoothing process (right). (Photo courtesy of the DSS Consortium)

    Another of the summit's intriguing presentations showcases how Microsoft Research and NASA will enable people to use the WorldWide Telescope to explore Mars virtually via a 3-D rendering of the surface of the planet and take interactive tours with noted NASA scientists James Garvin and Carol Stoker. This capability is the result of the Space Act Agreement signed by Microsoft and NASA in 2009 to inspire the next generation of astronomers to continue to pursue scientific discovery.

     

    A stunning new image of Mars now available in the WorldWide Telescope. (Photo courtesy of Microsoft|NASA)

    All of us at Microsoft Research are pleased to have the opportunity to welcome some of the world's most renowned thought leaders, working together to envision the advances of tomorrow.

    Please visit our Faculty Summit homepage the next few days, where we will bring you more information about WorldWide Telescope, the 2010 Faculty Fellows, and ongoing event news and coverage.

    Tony Hey, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft External Research, a division of Microsoft Research

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    Bringing the heavens into the schoolhouse

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    In the five years since Microsoft Research initially launched the WorldWide Telescope (WWT), the product’s many features have been put to a variety of uses. Today in Chongqing, China, we saw yet another first for WorldWide Telescope: the unveiling of the first WWT-driven planetarium in China. The 8-meter dome installation is at the Shixinlu primary school and is powered by six high-resolution projectors. This installation enables students not only to see and study the stars and the universe in an immersive planetarium setting, but it also allows them to create their own tours of the heavens and have them displayed on the dome.

    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing.
    The first WWT-driven planetarium in China was unveiled at the Shixinlu primary school in Chongqing on October 23.

    I represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the grand unveiling of the dome, and as I did so, I was struck by the impact our small research project has had around the world. Even more so, I was in awe of the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who saw the potential of teaching and inspiring students via a planetarium placed directly in the school and who collaborated with Microsoft Research Asia to implement this vision via WorldWide Telescope. Dr. Cui and Mrs. Kailiang Song, the director of the school, worked tirelessly to get the installation built and running in six months and to provide a great environment for WWT. And above all, it is great to see the potential for many more students to gain a better understanding of astronomy by being immersed in the stars.

    Dan Fay represented the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling.
    Representing the WorldWide Telescope team at the dome's unveiling, Fay was awed by the vision of Dr. Chenzhou Cui from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, who recognized the educational potential of WorldWide Telescope.

    The ability to use WorldWide Telescope in a multi-machine and multi-projector setup to display on planetarium domes is one of the features included in the Windows desktop client. The WWT client is freely available at www.worldwidetelescope.org.

    Dan Fay, Director of Earth, Energy, and Environment; Microsoft Research Connections

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    SEIF Project Crystal Receives ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award

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    Each year, Microsoft Research awards competitive grants to computer science academics through the Software Engineering Innovation Foundation (SEIF). In the first grant round, conducted in 2010, Professor David Notkin and his colleagues at the University of Washington were the recipients of one of the 12 awards for their proposal, “Speculation and Continuous Validation for Software Development,” which resulted in the project, “Crystal: Precise and Unobtrusive Conflict Warnings.” I’m pleased to announce that the achievements of Notkin and his colleagues are being recognized this month with an ACM SIGSOFT Distinguished Paper Award. The award will be presented at the European Software Engineering Conference and the ACM SIGSOFT Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (ESEC/FSE) in Szeged, Hungary (September 5–9, 2011). I’d like to share some of this exceptional research with you today.

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    (From left to right) Reid Holmes, David Notkin, Judith Bishop, Michael Ernst, Yuriy Brun

    About the Crystal Project

    Collaborative development of large software projects can be hampered when conflicts arise because developers have created inconsistent copies of a shared file, Notkin explains. The Crystal approach is designed to help developers identify and resolve inconsistencies early, before those conflicts become severe—and before relevant changes fade from the developers’ memories. The Crystal paper presents three outcomes of the project:

    • By studying open-source systems, the project team determined that inconsistencies or conflicts between copies of a shared file are frequent, persistent, and appear not only as overlapping textual edits, but also as subsequent build and test failures.
    • They classified conflicts by using the novel technique of speculative analysis over version-control operations.
    • They designed Crystal, a publicly available tool that uses speculative analysis to present concrete advice unobtrusively to developers, thereby helping them identify, manage, and prevent file version conflicts.

    Notkin’s study spans nine open-source systems totaling 3.4 million lines of code. The conflict data is derived from 550,000 development versions of the system. The complete paper, which goes into great detail on all three points, plus other research that was conducted as part of the project, is available to read online.

    Continuing Excellence

    The SEIF grants are just one way through which we continue to strengthen our support for outstanding university software engineering programs. These grants are intended to stimulate research in all aspects of software engineering, with an aim to cultivate interest in Microsoft Research tools and technologies. They also strengthen our ties to the university community.

    In fact, one of the postgraduate students who worked on Notkin’s Crystal project, Kıvanç Muşlu, came to work for us as an intern. He was jointly mentored by Christian Bird and Tom Zimmermann of the Research in Software Engineering group (RiSE) and me. During his internship, Muşlu explored how Crystal’s principles could be expanded for use in a full industrial context. The testbed was the full Bing development history. The result of his work, a new tool called Beacon, will be deployed to Microsoft product groups in the near future. Like Crystal, Beacon can alert developers when code they are writing will conflict with changes to another branch of the code. By using Microsoft Lync, it can quickly put the developers of the two sections of code in touch so that they can resolve the conflict. The challenge was to make the system work in real time with the enormous number of files and developers involved in a system like Bing. We look forward to seeing more from Muşlu in the future.

    Judith Bishop, Director of Computer Science, Microsoft Research Connections

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