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Google University Research Awards

January 28, 2009

For most people, the word "Google" evokes associations of Internet search, free apps, and advertising--a far cry from our roots in research and academia. Google, however, has not lost sight of that fundamental relationship. Many of our offices (or "campuses") are located near local universities, and we maintain a working environment many consider to be collegiate: informal, collaborative, and home to expert lectures not only about science and technology, but also about literature, the economy, world peace, green energy, fitness, etc.

But these aspects are only one component of our enduring partnership with academia. Given the unique technical challenges we face, from the beginning we've often recognized the need for a strong relationship with the research community. One of the key ways we interact with this community is through the Google Research Awards Program

Started in 2005, the program seeks to identify and support leading-edge research in strategic areas of engineering and computer science. Professors from universities worldwide submit proposals three times per year that are evaluated by a team of Google engineers and scientists. 

Like Google itself, the program is global in scope: in the most recent round of submissions, nearly a third came from outside of the United States. During that round, we received 149 proposals and we ultimately decided to fund about a third of the projects.

A challenging aspect of running an awards program is making the funding decisions. We want to ensure that every proposal is reviewed by the best experts in the field. Luckily, we're fortunate to have many people at Google with the right expertise who help us make those decisions. 

As Alfred Spector, VP for Research, explains, "The winning proposals not only get financial support from Google, but also receive the extra benefit of being assigned a Google liaison who maintains a special relation with the professor during the life of the award, contributes to the research, and ensures that the outcomes are valuable to Google and academia." One example of this is the recent paper featured on the Google Research home page, by Phil Long and Rocco Servedio from Columbia University titled "Random Classification Noise Defeats All Convex Potential Boosters." 

The following are some highlights from other recently-funded projects: 

Social Networks Research Through CourseRank
Hector Garcia-Molina, Stanford University
Hector Garcia-Molina and his team at Stanford are pursuing research on social networks and web usability by using and expanding CourseRank, a course evaluation and recommendation system for the Stanford community. As of June 2008, CourseRank has over 6,700 users and over 134,000 course evaluations. In addition to providing a service for Stanford students, it provides useful data to learn about social networks. Dr. Garcia-Molina plans to use CourseRank to investigate problems such as spam, trust, recommendations with complex objects, and the nature of social interactions. You can see a video with student testimonials and a demo here.

Energy-Efficient Storage Architectures for Data Centers
Sudhanva Gurumurthi, Mircea Stan, University of Virginia
Drs. Gurumurthi and Stan from the University of Virgina have developed a new disk drive architecture called "Intra-Disk Parallelism" that they hope will reduce the energy consumption of data center storage systems by over 60% while providing high performance to applications. This architecture extends conventional disk drives by allowing it to handle multiple I/O requests in parallel and by provisioning additional hardware resources to enhance the parallel capabilities even further. Details of their research were published at the 2008 International Symposium on Computer Architecture (ISCA). The conference paper has also been selected to appear in the IEEE Micro special issue on Top Picks from Computer Architecture Conferences.

Finding Better Spoken Dialog System Metrics
Maxine Eskenazi, Carnegie Mellon University
When the number of calls to spoken dialog systems mounts into the thousands, or millions, it is impossible to listen to every call. Prof. Eskenazi and her team at CMU are studying new metrics that could improve the performance of those systems. Dr. Eskenazi hopes this research will help illuminate how best to cope with advances in tuned speech recognition and new synthetic voices.

Interested in learning more about the Google University Relations and our Research Awards Program? Please visit our web site where scholars can learn more and submit proposals.