ROUNDUP

Killer App: Microsoft Bio?

Jun 1, 2006
Ned Stafford

Scientists: Microsoft has money for you. June 7 is the deadline to apply for grants from UK-based Microsoft Research Cambridge (MRC), a Microsoft-funded organization linked to Cambridge University and other academic institutions throughout Europe (see http://research.microsoft.com/ero/csp/cfp2006.aspx). The winners of the 10 one-year grants on the intersection of computers and the natural sciences will be announced in September. The grants range from ?50,000 to ?250,000.

The grants come out of a conference the firm organized last summer, when 34 top scientists gathered to explore the potential over the next decade and beyond for dramatically increasing the synthesis between computer science and natural sciences, with a particular emphasis on life sciences. The scientists, known as the 2020 Science Group, issued a report in March outlining how computer science can transform life sciences over the next 15 years.

Stephen Emmott, director of external research at the MRC and chairperson of the 2020 Science Group, concedes that Microsoft is not funding the program for "entirely altruistic" reasons. Referring to the software market, Emmott says that "science is really where the action is going to be. A science revolution is underway underpinned by computers." Microsoft might be hoping to pick up an idea or two from the research proposals, he notes, and the goal of the research would be to develop tools that could be exported to the scientific community.