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Latin American Workshop Explores Research Challenges and Collaboration Opportunities

September 2, 2011 | By Microsoft blog editor

Fifty Latin American researchers and former Microsoft Research interns and Fellows gathered at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in July to participate in the LATAM Workshop. The goals of this research workshop: share research challenges and results and seek opportunities to work together across the Latin American region.

Fifty Latin American researchers and former Microsoft Research interns and Fellows gathered at the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, in July to participate in the LATAM Workshop.

The event included presentations from representatives from the Microsoft Research-FAPESP Institute for IT Research in São Paulo, Brazil, and the Latin American and Caribbean Collaborative ICT Research (LACCIR) Federation. Representatives from Microsoft Research also participated in discussions and delivered presentations about advances in computing that can be applied to research challenges. The topics of this year’s event focused on how the computer sciences can be applied to micro-economies, health and wellbeing, climate change, bioenergy, biodiversity, and tropical ecosystems.

“The Latin American Workshop played a significant role in sharing our research findings and perspectives with each other; not only with researchers from our region but also with colleagues from Microsoft Research,” said Domingo Mery, a professor from Catholic University of Chile and conference presenter. “This is an excellent way to nurture collaboration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Many thanks for this opportunity!”

While all of the presentations were impressive, we have chosen two to highlight here today: “The Brazilian Biodiversity Database and Information System (SinBiota),” presented by Tiago Egger Moellwald Duque Estrada, Instituto Virtual da Biodiversidade, Programa Biota/FAPESP; and “Live Andes (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species): A New Tool for Wildlife Conservation,” presented by Cristian Bonacic, associate professor, Ecosystems and Environment Department, Catholic University of Chile, Chile.

Session Highlight: The Brazilian Biodiversity Database and Information System: SinBiota

The BIOTA/FAPESP program (São Paulo’s State Foundation for Research Funding) was created 10 years ago to provide support for the São Paulo State Government to achieve the targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the essential components of the BIOTA/FAPESP program is the information system called SinBiota. This is a new version (currently prototype) of the first SinBiota system. It runs on Microsoft Silverlight, and uses Bing maps to provide environmental data visualization.

The system has not been significantly upgraded in its first 10 years. With the renovation of the Biota/FAPESP program, a new system is needed to fulfill the demands of researchers, educators, NGOs, and governmental agencies.
“The workshop was an invaluable opportunity for researchers from São Paulo and their students to interact with colleagues from LACCIR and scientists from Microsoft Research,” said Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director, FAPESP. “We expect that high-impact scientific collaboration will follow.”

Session Highlight: Live ANDES (Advanced Network for the Distribution of Endangered Species): A New Tool for Wildlife Conservation
South America is home to some of the richest and most diverse ecosystems in the world. However, many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians in these ecosystems are in danger of extinction. Additionally, vast areas of land have been minimally explored by scientists to assess the population status of various species and to identify unknown species. Scientists and conservationists can greatly improve their understanding of endangered species through access to reports about the local wildlife from residents of these regions.

ICT tools that citizens can use in natural areas could provide conservation scientists with vital information to help them protect wildlife. The Live ANDES platform, which is a citizen science project, is helping to create a global conservation community in South America. Citizens can upload and share wildlife data (such as notes, videos, and audio of endangered species) with scientists. This project enables local residents to contribute to biodiversity conservation by providing scientists with much-needed wildlife data.

This platform is currently available in beta version and enables users to share information online. The platform was built on the Microsoft .NET Framework and the web solution uses technologies such as ASP.NET MVC, Bing Map Services, Windows Communication Foundation data services, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, the ADO.NET Entity Framework, and LINQ. The mobile solution is based on the .NET Compact Framework for Windows Phone 7.

In a second version of Live ANDES, the project team will focus on data sharing among academics and policy makers, which requires more advanced tools for assessing quality data and for data analysis, as well as user profiles that provide more details.

Graduate Student Participation

The response to these and other sessions was overwhelmingly positive. A key factor contributing to the workshop’s success was the participation of 20 graduate students who have worked as interns or Fellows at Microsoft Research. Some were Microsoft Research alumni and others are currently working with Microsoft Research. All were actively involved in research and the workshop exchanges.

This workshop was a wonderful opportunity for these students. Attending the workshop will help them with their research, and it will also help broaden their understanding of a wide range of technologies and approaches that will, in turn, support the advancement of their careers. The workshop also gave alumni a chance to reconnect and catch up with their Microsoft Research mentors.

Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager; Harold Javid, Director, Americas/ANZ Regional Programs; and Jaime Puente, Director, Latin America and Caribbean

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