Microsoft Research to Open New Doors for Scientists in Cambridge, Mass

Microsoft Research to Open New Doors for Scientists in Cambridge, Mass

Microsoft to open sixth research lab, with focus on bringing together technical researchers, social scientists; Microsoft Research names first female lab director.

REDMOND, Wash. — Microsoft Research, the basic research arm of Microsoft Corp., announced today that it will open a new lab in Cambridge, Mass., in July 2008. As the company’s sixth research center and its first on the East Coast of the United States, Microsoft Research New England will build on Microsoft’s commitment to collaborate with the broader research community and advance the state of the art in multiple areas of computing research. The lab will pursue new interdisciplinary areas of research that bring together core computer scientists and social scientists to better understand, model and enable the computing and online experiences of the future.

The new lab will enable Microsoft Research to interact closely with the large community of scientists in New England, notably the faculty and students at the many premier academic institutions in the vicinity. It will also provide researchers with the opportunity to interact with people in Microsoft’s incubation centers and newly acquired companies in the region.

“Every time the doors of a new basic research facility open, new avenues for research, collaboration and innovation also open up,” said Rick Rashid, senior vice president of Microsoft Research. “Microsoft Research New England will create additional opportunities for researchers to pursue their passions in the Cambridge area, one of the world’s foremost centers of innovation, setting the stage for new discoveries and scientific breakthroughs.”

Rashid also announced that veteran Microsoft researcher Jennifer Tour Chayes has been appointed the managing director of the new lab.

“Chayes is one of the most accomplished researchers in her field, and her qualifications and achievements make her the ideal leader for our newest research lab,” Rashid said. “Diversity is also a key factor in the success of all research efforts, and we welcome the opportunity to add to our leadership team a female director who has distinguished herself in the fields of mathematics, physics and computer science.”

Chayes, the first woman appointed to lead one of Microsoft’s international research labs, has extensive experience leading research teams at Microsoft and pursuing research in core areas of computer science, in addition to being a professor at the University of Washington and University of California, Los Angeles.

“Breaking through barriers is what research is all about,” Chayes said. “We’re going to New England to break through barriers between core computer science and social sciences and to do fundamental research that can lead to deeper insights and better computing experiences in an increasingly online world.”

“But I’m also personally delighted that we’re breaking through barriers for women in leadership positions in the scientific research community. I hope my new role will serve as an inspiration for other women in scientific fields, and particularly for young girls who may be interested in math and science. I want to show them that math and science are cool, that research is creative and exciting, and that there is a path for women in technical fields at companies like Microsoft.”

Chayes has led Microsoft Research groups in the areas of mathematics, theoretical computer science and cryptography. She joined Microsoft Research in 1997, when she co-founded the theory group. Her research areas include phase transitions in discrete mathematics and computer science, structural and dynamical properties of self-engineered networks, and algorithmic game theory. She is the co-author of almost 100 scientific papers and the co-inventor of more than 20 patents.

The deputy managing director of Microsoft Research New England will be Christian Borgs, a principal researcher and co-manager of the theory group at Microsoft Research. Borgs has also been a professor at the University of Washington and the University of Leipzig. His research areas include properties of self-engineered networks, phase transitions in theoretical computer science, and algorithmic game theory. He has numerous scientific publications and holds many patents.

The New England lab will focus initially on two key areas: core computer science, especially more algorithmically oriented areas, and the social sciences, with a particular emphasis on building connections between these two areas. It will also include a small group focused on design. All three groups will collaborate closely with one another as well as with the open, academic research and design communities.

Algorithms form the operational core of search engines, spam filters, online advertising engines, social networks and many other central features of the online world. Social sciences, including economics, psychology and sociology, analyze how and why people value things and study how people interact with each other.

Combining both areas of focus, research initiatives in the New England lab will use social sciences to understand what people want to do in the online world, theoretical computer science to devise algorithms to make that happen, and design to add aesthetics and functionality to the process. The possibilities range from enhanced online social networks to new types of applications such as filter engines and new business models for fraud-resistant monetization of online activities.

Microsoft Research New England will be the sixth lab in Microsoft Research’s worldwide lineup, which already comprises labs in Redmond, Wash.; Silicon Valley, Calif.; Cambridge, England; Beijing, China; and Bangalore, India. The newest lab continues Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to investing in basic research, particularly at a time when many companies and government agencies are curtailing their spending on basic research.

“While most companies, and even government organizations, are shrinking or eliminating these kinds of investments, Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to basic research makes it a notable exception,” said Venkatesh “Venky” Narayanamurti, dean of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We’re very pleased that its new interdisciplinary research lab will be our neighbor in Cambridge to facilitate even closer collaboration.”