Microsoft Investigator fellows accelerate scientific and teaching impact with Azure cloud computing


By , Vice-President, US Education


I am pleased to announce the winners of the new Microsoft Investigator Fellowship (opens in new tab). This fellowship is designed to empower researchers of all disciplines who plan to make an impact with research and teaching using the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform. Each fellowship provides $100,000 USD annually for two years and various training and community events. We received over 290 proposals from an impressive group of faculty researchers. Ultimately, 15 fellowships were awarded.

“The unique value Microsoft is bringing to higher education through the Fellowship Program is the autonomy it offers the researcher, allowing them to focus on their discipline while supporting academia’s interest in solving for research in the public cloud,” says Dr. Lawrence Carin, Vice President for Research at Duke University, who serves as academic advisor to the program.


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We are proud to support the following Investigator Fellows as they advance scientific discovery, and we look forward to sharing the Microsoft Azure for Research journey with these fellows to not only advance their science, but also assist in breaking down the barriers to cloud for all researchers.

2019 Investigator Fellowship Recipients

Mohit Bansal, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Assistant Professor and Director of UNC-NLP Lab
Computer Science


Dr. Mohit Bansal is the Director of the UNC-NLP Lab and an assistant professor in the Computer Science department at UNC Chapel Hill. He received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 2013 and his BTech from IIT Kanpur in 2008. His research expertise is in natural language processing and machine learning, with a particular focus on multimodal, grounded, and embodied semantics; human-like language generation and Q&A/dialogue; and interpretable and self-learned deep learning. He is a recipient of the 2019 DARPA Director’s Fellowship, 2019 NSF CAREER Award, 2018 ARO Young Investigator Award (YIP), 2017 DARPA Young Faculty Award, 2017 ACL Outstanding Paper Award, 2014 ACL Best Paper Award Honorable Mention, and 2018 COLING Area Chair Favorites Paper Award.

“This exciting Microsoft fellowship will help us further advance our research goals of developing human-like NLG, Q&A, and dialogue systems that possess generalizable and explainable semantic knowledge skills; perform visual and robotic action-based multimodal grounding in the surrounding dynamic spatio-temporal environment; and are engaging and personality-based.”

Alexis Battle, Johns Hopkins University

Associate Professor
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Department of Computer Science









Alexis Battle is a 2016 Searle Scholar and the recipient of a 2019 Johns Hopkins Discovery Award for studying the genetics of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Her research group focuses on understanding the impact of genetic variation on the human body, using machine learning and probabilistic methods to analyze large-scale genomic data. She is interested in applications of personal genomics, differences in gene expression, and gene networks in disease, leveraging diverse data to infer more comprehensive models of genetic effects on the cell. Battle earned her PhD in Computer Science in 2013 from Stanford University, where she also received her bachelor’s degree in Symbolic Systems in 2003.

“Current large-scale genetic and health data collection combined with computational and statistical methods will help us achieve a more complete understanding of the personal genome.”

Casey Frankenberger, Rush University Medical Center

Chief Research Informatics Officer
Assistant Professor, Department of Cell and Molecular Medicine









Dr. Casey Frankenberger is the Chief Research Informatics Officer at Rush University Medical Center. Since joining over a year ago, he co-led the first native integration of structured genomics into a popular electronic health record system. Before coming to Rush, he was the director of computational biology and clinical translation at Tempus Labs, a Chicago-based startup focused on precision medicine, clinical genomics, and cancer informatics. Prior to Tempus Labs, Casey spent time at the University of Chicago and the National Cancer Institute. He received his PhD also at Rush Medical Center.

“To build toward the research of the future, we need to be great communicators of the solutions that enable our research and may enable others.”

Alison Gray, University of Washington

Assistant Professor
School of Oceanography









Alison Gray is an oceanographer working to advance scientific understanding of the large-scale physics and chemistry of the ocean and the impacts on Earth’s climate and ecosystems.  Her research primarily focuses on observing the global ocean using autonomous instruments that measure physical and biogeochemical ocean properties and analyzing those observations using state-of-the-art methods from statistics and data science.  She completed her graduate work at the University of Washington, where she received an M.S. and a PhD in physical oceanography, as well as an M.S. in applied mathematics.

“With the use of modern cloud computing via Azure, my research will be able to take advantage of the vast quantities of global ocean data now being generated, enabling us to tackle important scientific questions in new and exciting ways.”

Travis Osterman, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Assistant Professor, Department of Biomedical Informatics
Assistant Professor, Division of Hematology and Oncology
Director of Cancer Clinical Informatics, Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center









Dr. Travis Osterman is board certified in internal medicine, medical oncology, and clinical informatics, and he has completed an M.S. in biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University. He has dual faculty appointments at VUMC in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and the Department of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology. Dr. Osterman’s clinical interest within oncology is lung cancer. He leads the Clinical Cancer Informatics Innovation (C2I2) Program, whose research focuses on applying clinical informatics methods across the cancer care continuum. Current projects include identifying patients for lung cancer screening, automated clinical trial matching, and using predictive analytics to anticipate toxicity to immunotherapy. Nationally, Dr. Osterman is involved in several national efforts to improve the availability of oncology-specific electronic health record data to support quality improvement across oncology practices.

“Microsoft’s Azure platform offers a great opportunity to more easily deploy our clinical decision support tools to other medical centers. We look forward to leveraging these capabilities and teaching the next generation of informaticians to leverage cloud-based infrastructure to facilitate discoveries and disseminate their findings.”

Casey Overby Taylor, Johns Hopkins University

Assistant Professor
Department of Medicine


Dr. Casey Overby Taylor is Assistant Professor in Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and is a Fellow in the Johns Hopkins Malone Center for Engineering in Healthcare. Her research draws from biomedical informatics and the related field of biomedical data science to address the challenge of how to incorporate technology and digital approaches into clinical research and healthcare practices. She also draws from comparative effectiveness research approaches, including experience with conceptualizing and measuring implementation outcomes, to study the use of clinical decision support as a strategy to improve the adoption of clinically actionable guidance.

Her PhD is from the University of Washington, and she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University.

“Research enabled by this fellowship will combine and assess the strength of non-modifiable and modifiable patient-specific factors to predict risk for adverse health outcomes.”

Franco Pestilli, Indiana University

Associate Professor
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Franco Pestilli is Associate Professor at Indiana University. He directs the Laboratory of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience (opens in new tab), with research spanning across neuroinformatics, vision, aging, development, and learning. Pestilli has authored over 40 publications in journals such as Nature Methods, Neuron, Nature Communications, Scientific Data, and PNAS. He has received the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Achievements by the Association for Psychological Science (APS). Fellow of both APS and Psychonomics Society, he serves as editorial board member for Scientific Data, Scientific Reports, and Brain Structure and Function. Franco is co-director of the (opens in new tab), (opens in new tab), and founder of (opens in new tab).

“I am extremely excited about this Microsoft Fellowship. It will put us in the privileged position to tackle difficult questions requiring the handling of large amounts of data integrated across genomics, neuroimaging, and the published literature.”

Sriram Sankararaman, University of California Los Angeles

Assistant Professor
Computer Science, Computational Medicine, and Human Genetics









Dr. Sriram Sankararaman earned a PhD in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School. He is the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship, the Okawa Foundation Research Grant, a UCLA Hellman fellowship, the NIH Pathway to Independence Award, a Simons Institute fellowship, and a Harvard Science of the Human Past fellowship as well as the Northrop-Grumman Excellence in Teaching Award at UCLA. His work has led to the identification of disease genes in diverse populations, such as African Americans and Latinos; to the discovery of interbreeding between humans and Neanderthals; and to guidelines for how genetic data can be shared without compromising privacy.

“I want to use the human genome to answer fundamental questions about evolution and to understand how changes in the genome lead to disease. This fellowship will allow us to fully leverage powerful computational approaches to analyze large biomedical data.”

Guillermo Sapiro, Duke University

James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering


Guillermo Sapiro is a James B. Duke Distinguished Professor with Duke University. He works on theory and applications in computer vision, computer graphics, medical imaging, image analysis, and machine learning, with over 450 papers and a book in these areas. He was awarded the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator Award, the Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientist and Engineers, the National Science Foundation Career Award, the National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship, and the Test of Time Award at ICCV in 2011 and at ICML in 2019. He is a Fellow of IEEE and SIAM, and he was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2018.

“In particular in the area of computational behavioral phenotyping, where the machine learning and computer vision challenges are very significant and not smaller than the privacy ones, combining our expertise and data with Microsoft’s capabilities in Azure and beyond are a perfect match.”

Alexander Szalay, Johns Hopkins University

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Department of Computer Science









Alexander Szalay is a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University. He is a cosmologist, working on spatial statistics of galaxies. He has written over 500 papers, covering areas from theoretical cosmology to observational astronomy, spatial statistics, and computer science. Recently he has been working on introducing petascale imaging techniques in cancer research. He is the architect for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey Science Archive. He was Project Director of the NSF-funded National Virtual Observatory. He is a Corresponding Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

“Together [with Jim Gray of Microsoft], we have built the first web services and the first cloud-like services in science. It was an amazing experience to realize that we are living through one of the rare scientific revolutions, the emergence of data-driven discoveries. I am very excited to see this long-term collaboration with Microsoft continue.”

Daniel Takabi, Georgia State University

Associate Professor
Computer Science


Dr. Daniel Takabi received his PhD from University of Pittsburgh and is currently an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Next Generation Scholar at Georgia State University (GSU). He is founding director of the Information Security and Privacy: Interdisciplinary Research and Education (INSPIRE) Center and has extensive influential research in cybersecurity and privacy. He has published over 100 papers in highly competitive venues and serves on the organizing/program committees of top security and privacy conferences, including IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy (S&P), ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS), and Privacy Enhancing Technologies Symposium (PETS).

“As new Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems are created, we must ensure these systems are trustworthy. This fellowship award from Microsoft will significantly impact our research in the very important area of trustworthy AI by providing resources for our work. Combining Microsoft’s capabilities in Azure and beyond with our expertise and experience will enable us to implement and test ideas that we could not do otherwise.”

Vahid Tarokh, Duke University

Rhodes Family Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)









Vahid Tarokh is the Rhodes Family Professor of Duke ECE, Bass Connections Endowed Professor, and Professor of Computer Science (Secondary) and Mathematics (Secondary) at Duke. He is a recipient of the Alan T. Waterman Award, Guggenheim Fellowship (in Applied Mathematics), and 4 honorary degrees. He is also a Member of the United States National Academy of Engineering. He was on the faculty of MIT and Harvard until 2018 and a Gordon Moore Distinguished Scholar in the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in 2018.

“Microsoft [Azure] cloud has enabled me to implement and test ideas that I could not have done otherwise. The space provided ample resources for interactions with students, both Duke and external researchers, including speakers from Microsoft.”

Subith Vasu, University of Central Florida

Associate Professor
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS)









Dr. Subith Vasu has co-authored a plethora of publications (> 300) based on experimental research with advanced sensors for a variety of applications including power generation, propulsion, transportation, explosions, and space transport. Currently, his group is applying machine learning techniques for developing sensors to identify fentanyl and related toxins for protecting first responders. Also, they have been significantly involved in the development of zero-emission power generation concepts using supercritical CO2, which is a transformative technique with potential for carbon capture and reducing water consumption. He is a recipient of many prestigious early career awards including the DARPA Young Faculty Award. Currently, he has projects from most federal entities including NASA, FAA, DTRA, DOE, Air Force, Navy, Army, DARPA and several industries.

“Our research will secure the future of humanity by developing next generation power generation concepts, and our sensors will protect the first responders by rapidly identifying opioids in the field. Microsoft Azure provides us with GUI-enabled Machine Learning service, which is easier for non-computer scientists to utilize and allows us more time to focus on solving actual research problems.”

Hakim Weatherspoon, Cornell University

Associate Professor
Department of Computer Science


Hakim Weatherspoon is an Associate Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Cornell University and Associate Director for Cornell’s Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA). His research interests cover various aspects of fault-tolerance, reliability, security, and performance of internet-scale data systems, such as cloud and distributed systems.  Weatherspoon has received awards for his many contributions, including the Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Washington, Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering; Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship; National Science Foundation CAREER Award; and a Kavli Fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences. He serves as Vice President of the USENIX Board of Directors and serves on the Steering Committee for the ACM Symposium on Cloud Computing.

“This Microsoft Investigator Fellowship Award will allow my research to explore using Microsoft’s FarmBeats and Azure platforms into the design of a ‘Software-Defined Farm’, an end-to-end Internet-of-Things platform for agriculture that enables seamless data collection from various sensors, cameras and drones, along with data analytics, and potential actuation.”

Bei Yu, Syracuse University

Katchmar-Wilhelm Associate Professor
School of Information Studies









Bei Yu is the Katchmar-Wilhelm Endowed Associate Professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Her research focuses on using machine learning and natural language processing (NLP) to assess information quality in science communication and develop automated tools to facilitate public understanding of science research. She is particularly interested in discovering linguistic patterns that characterize various kinds of misinformation in science communication. Her current research examines health claim exaggeration in press releases and news stories by extracting and comparing health claims from news articles and research papers using NLP techniques.

“I look forward to using Microsoft Azure to make advanced NLP techniques accessible for all students.”

We extend our congratulations to this year’s Investigator Fellowship recipients (opens in new tab). We also look forward to seeing how they integrate Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform into their important work, now and in the future. If you would like to find out more about the recipients, find their extended bios on the Investigator Fellowship page (opens in new tab). Learn more about the many other fellowship offerings from Microsoft for both faculty and students on the academic programs page (opens in new tab), where you can also learn more about other programs, events, learning opportunities, and joint research endeavors. To stay up to date on new programs and opportunities, sign up for the monthly Microsoft Research Newsletter. (opens in new tab)


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