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New York City Lab Lands in Silicon Alley

August 19, 2013 | Posted by Microsoft Research Blog

Posted by Rob Knies

Microsoft Research NYC
More than a century ago, 641 Sixth Ave., a Beaux-Arts high-rise in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, housed Simpson, Crawford & Simpson, known for a while as the most elegant department store in New York City.

On Aug. 19, this historic 1902 landmark, part of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, begins the latest chapter in its storied existence by becoming the home for Microsoft Research New York City.

For the past 15 months, the New York City lab, founded in May 2012, has occupied temporary space controlled by Microsoft while lab leadership endeavored to locate a welcoming space up to the standards of the world-class research it needed to host. Now, at 20th Street and Sixth Avenue—also known as Avenue of the Americas—the search is complete.

“With strong ties to both the academic community and the tech industry,” says David Pennock, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research New York City, “Microsoft Research is thrilled to open our doors in the heart of Silicon Alley, close to NYU and steps away from other Microsoft engineers in the Yammer and Skype divisions.

“With the startup scene booming, it’s a great time to be a tech company in New York City.”

Microsoft Research New York City will occupy 22,000 square feet on the seventh floor of the venerable structure, located southwest of Madison Square Park and within walking distance of Greenwich Village and Chelsea.

The existing space on the seventh floor was modified to address the requirements of its new tenant, and researchers and lab leadership alike provided feedback on the selection of the site and their space needs.

It was a decision that the lab’s leaders, led by Jennifer Chayes, managing director, were not about to take lightly. Microsoft’s Real Estate and Facilities group collaborated with lab leadership, which was involved in all aspects of the planning process—site selection, design, and construction, processes that particularly benefited from oversight by Christian Borgs, deputy managing director of Microsoft Research New England.

With the lab leadership passionate about creating a great space for researchers, there was a lot of attention to detail, in keeping with Microsoft’s belief that a well-designed space contributes to a good work environment.

Microsoft Research New York City’s new home includes unique features, such as a 70-person seminar room with state-of –the-art technology for video with recording capabilities. An employee hub has been established for group meetings, and the furnished, open floor plan includes room for bike storage, a mother’s room, and curated art installations.

The 21 full-time researchers and postdocs at the lab pursue research inquiries into a variety of computer-science areas, including computational and behavioral social sciences, computational economics and prediction markets, machine learning, and information retrieval. The lab also hosts a large number of student interns and visiting professors from universities near and far, including Columbia, Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford.

Work emanating from the New York City lab has been manifested in a variety of intriguing ways since its debut, including efforts to provide accurate predictions for the 2012 U.S. presidential election and the 2013 Academy Awards, to define specifically what it means when a bit of content “goes viral,” and to quantify the hidden costs of bad ads.

The lab also has established a pattern of collaborating with academics and universities in New York City and working with city officials and the office of Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“New York City has become an international hub of data science in the broadest sense,” Chayes says. “We look forward to even more interactions with the Bloomberg Applied Science initiatives at Cornell Tech, NYU, and Columbia, with the local university community, and with the incredibly vibrant startup scene in Silicon Alley to help realize the promise of data-driven science and technology.”