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New Technologies Help Healthcare and Environmental Sciences “Scale Up”

October 8, 2010 | By Microsoft blog editor

Microsoft Research’s 7th annual eScience Workshop is in full swing this week in lovely Berkeley, California. This event has brought together over 200 scientists from diverse fields (and diverse geographies), all united around their interest in using data-intensive science to advance their research. The theme of this year’s workshop is “Scaling the Science,” which is all about understanding processes at the molecular level and then scaling them up to larger systems-say, the human body or worldwide evaporation patterns.

New technologies in the physical and biological sciences play a huge role in this scaling effort, and this year’s eScience workshop showcases several. In particular, we are excited to be highlighting the Microsoft Biology Foundation (MBF) and environmental research collaboration between Microsoft Research and UC Berkeley that leverages MODISAzure.

MBF is a prime example of the power of using enormous datasets to advance research. It provides researchers with advanced tools to detect connections among a vast store of bioinformatics functions-such as finding a correlation between a particular human gene sequence and the likelihood of developing a certain disease. Researchers at Johnson & Johnson are already using MBF to build and mine advanced biological and chemical databases, helping them to make discoveries more rapidly. By taking advantage of MBF’s store of pre-existing functions, the Johnson & Johnson scientists don’t have to reinvent the wheel as they search for meaningful linkages among bioinformatics data. This is a huge timesaver-and a potential lifesaver. 

MBF is part of the Microsoft Biology Initiative, and is available under an open source license. It is freely downloadable at  

Another technology for data-intensive research leverages MODISAzure. The new technology takes images from MODIS, a NASA satellite that takes pictures of patches of the Earth, and then runs them through an image processing pipeline on the Microsoft Windows Azure cloud-computing platform. Records from ground-based sensors are layered in, and then the mammoth dataset is combined via biophysical modeling. This research allows scientists from diverse disciplines to share data and algorithms, which enables them to better visualize and understand how ecosystems behave as climate change occurs.  By so doing, it takes earth science a giant step toward having systems that are present everywhere and running all the time. Using this research, scientists will be able to mine a vast array of data to better understand such environmental issues as the impact of specific sources of CO2 emissions on climate change in a given ecosystem. The project was created by Dennis Baldocchi, biometeorologist at U.C. Berkeley, Youngryel Ryu, biometerologist at Harvard University, and Catharine van Ingen, Microsoft eScience researcher.

Tony Hey – corporate vice president of the External Research Division of Microsoft Research