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Microsoft Releases ‘Trident’ Software to Help Scientists Organize Research

A new data-management tool unveiled today by Microsoft Research at its annual Faculty Summit will be available to colleges and universities free.

Project Trident: A Scientific Workflow Workbench is designed to help scientists in data-intensive fields such as medical research, astronomy, environmental science, and oceanography make sense of data more quickly in real time, using a better visual interface.

“The way it works right now in many cases is that these research universities are building homegrown workflow systems from the ground up — and that’s such a concern about the sustainability of these systems,” said Roger S. Barga, the principal architect of the project. “Essentially you have people starting from scratch every time.”

With homegrown systems, it is much harder to make even small changes. Each adjustment requires a programmer to open up a writing program and rewrite parts of the code. And “many faculty members can’t do that,” Mr. Barga said.

With Trident, the coding is already written. It collects data and uses a visual interface specific to each project: For an astronomer, that could mean a screen with visualizations of orbiting satellites; for a medical researcher, that could mean floating cells. With a click and a drag, scientists can view data on any aspect of the project, Mr. Barga said.

“When you get a groups of scientists together, they go to the white board and start drawing their science and procedures out,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to simulate with the visualization here.”

Users can also specify which scientists can have access to their work flows, Mr. Barga said, or publish work flows for public viewing, which will make simultaneous analysis from different locations more efficient, he said.

The software is slated to be used in a select number of university research projects, including the Ocean Observatories Initiative, run by the University of Washington and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

James G. Bellingham, chief technologist at the institute, said scientists plan to use Trident to manage data from a project in the Pacific that will track typhoons as they begin to form, and measure the effects they have both above and below water. He hopes to begin in the summer of 2010.

“Now, everyone will be able to access not just one field program but all of the field programs,” Mr. Bellingham said. “I’m just very excited we have this portal that allows everyone to interact.” —Erica R. Hendry

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