In conducting research, we often look to the past for answers. Today, at Stanford University, I had the opportunity to look to the future. This morning I watched four excellent presentations delivered by the teams of students enrolled in CS210, Project-Based Computer Science Innovation & Development; and this afternoon, I attended the class’ fair, modeled after a trade show, where I was able to delve more deeply into each of the projects. If the inquisitiveness, passion and determination of the students I met today are any indication, the future of our profession is in very good hands.
The goal of CS210 is to provide computer science students with an opportunity to collaborate on a real-world project provided by a corporate partner. The challenge of the project Microsoft External Research handed over to the students was to make satellite data more accessible to environmental scientists. Specifically, Team Nimbus was tasked with reducing the costs, time and complexity associated with managing satellite images while at the same time improving the reliability of those images, which are often difficult to manipulate on a desktop.
The result of the team’s work is CloudLab, which utilizes the Windows Azure platform to remove the heaviest work from the desktop and put it in the cloud, where there is far more computing power and accessibility. During the development of CloudLab, scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory served as the team’s customers. For the students in the class, which was taught by Jay Borenstein, the benefits go far beyond a passing grade. Throughout the class, students gained practical insight into many applied aspects of computer science, such as source control and agile programming methodologies. By working on a real project with the potential to have an impact on industry, the students became better informed about what they may wish to pursue professionally.
Beyond the experience gained by the students, Stanford will use its up-close view of what’s important throughout the industry to continue refining its academic offerings. For me, this collaboration effort provided the chance to get to know people whose names I’m confident will one day be familiar to us all. Finally, and most importantly, the experience is a compelling reminder, for all of us throughout the global research community, of how important it is to look at our work and all of its challenges through the perspectives of others as often as possible.
Dan Fay, director, Earth, Energy, and Environment, Microsoft External Research