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Scientific Tools
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Scientific Tools

Rapid advances in computing technologies have transformed the way scientists practice science. Software that implements scientific research scenarios with cutting-edge computing technologies now plays an important role in advancing sciences. For many years, Microsoft Research has been collaborating with researchers in academia to produce free software tools, services, and resources to help researchers, educators, and students manage their scholarly works. Many of these scientific tools are open source or have open interfaces so that communities can build upon them in collaboration with Microsoft researchers.

These scientific tools range in scope from custom add-ins that are designed to extend the functionality of Microsoft Word and Excel to online services. The following are just a few examples of the tools in use today.

Chemistry Add-in for Word

The Chemistry Add-in for Word makes it easier to insert and modify chemical information, such as labels, formulas, and 2-D depictions, within Microsoft Word. Additionally, it enables the creation of inline “chemical zones,” the rendering of print-ready visual depictions of chemical structures, and the ability to store and expose chemical information in a semantically rich manner.

The Add-in is partnership between the Education and Scholarly Communication research team at Microsoft Research Connections, under Lee Dirks and Alex Wade, and the Unilever Centre for Molecular Science Informatics at the University of Cambridge, under the guidance of Dr. Peter Murray-Rust and Dr. Joe Townsend.

Primary Researcher: Peter Murray-Rust


NodeXL is a powerful and easy-to-use interactive network visualization and analysis tool that uses Microsoft Excel for representing generic graph data, performing advanced network analysis, and visual exploration of networks. NodeXL supports multiple social network data providers that import graph data (nodes and edge lists) into Excel. The Import features of NodeXL explores social media by pulling data from personal email indexes on the desktop, Twitter, Flicker, YouTube, Facebook, and web hyperlinks.

NodeXL allows non-programmers to generate useful network statistics and metrics quickly and create visualizations of network graphs. Filtering and display attributes can be used to highlight important structures in the network.

NodeXL is a project from the Social Media Research Foundation with support from the Microsoft Research Connections and Microsoft Research Cambridge, with additional contributions from researchers at the University of Porto, University of Maryland, Connected Action Consulting, Stanford University, Oxford University, Australian National University, and Illinois Institute of Technology.

Primary Researcher: Marc Smith

Scientific Workflow Workbench

The Scientific Workflow Workbench is an open-source toolkit based on the Windows Workflow Foundation that addresses scientists’ need for a flexible, powerful way to analyze large, diverse datasets. It includes graphical tools for creating, running, managing, and sharing workflows.

As part of Vortex2, a project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study tornados, Project Trident was used by Indiana University to invoke and manage hourly workflows. By using a 512-core HPC super computer at the university, the workflow automatically obtained current weather data and then generated a short-term forecast, ultimately producing 240 forecasts and more than 9,000 weather images for researchers to access by their smartphones in the field.

Primary Researcher: Beth Plale

Primary Researchers

Peter Murray-Rust

Peter Murray-Rust is a contemporary chemist at Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, UK. Murray-Rust and his research team use cutting-edge informatics and software engineering to develop the future of knowledge-driven scientific research in chemistry and related subjects. Chemistry Add-in for Word was one of the successful outcomes of their research on chemical data representation and semantics.

Marc Smith

Marc Smith is a sociologist specializing in the social organization of online communities and computer mediated interaction. He founded and managed the Community Technologies Group at Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington, and led the development of social media reporting and analysis tools for Telligent Systems. Smith leads the Connected Action consulting group and lives and works in Silicon Valley, California. He is a co-founder of the Social Media Research Foundation, which is dedicated to Open Tools, Open Data, and Open Scholarship related to social media.

Beth Plale

Beth Plale is director of the Data To Insight Center, which is associated with Pervasive Technology Institute. She is an experimental computer scientist whose research interests include data management, data-driven computing, and the preservation of scientific and scholarly data sets. She is a professor in the School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University.