Microsoft Research New England

Microsoft announced today that they’ll be opening a new research lab, in Cambridge, which will be called Microsoft Research New England. The director of the lab will be mathematical physicist Jennifer Chayes, with deputy director her husband Christian Borgs, who is also a mathematical physicist. For an interview with them, see here, for a story in today’s New York Times, see here.

Jennifer and her ex-husband Lincoln Chayes (also a mathematical physicist, now at UCLA) were my class-mates during graduate student years in Princeton, as well as frequent companions on trips down to City Gardens in Trenton to see bands like the Ramones. The two of them at the time had even more impressive leather outfits than the Ramones.

Update: There’s more about this at the Xconomy web-site.

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17 Responses to Microsoft Research New England

  1. Someone says:

    Your friends are doing OK. Congratulations to them and to you.

    Apart from that, what is the relevance of this post to the subject of this blog?

    This post’s title should be “not even relevant”.

  2. woit says:

    Someone,

    Well, one argument for relevance is that mathematical physics is perhaps the central concern of this blog, and Microsoft is opening a large, very well-funded lab next to MIT to be run by two mathematical physicists.

    As for the personal color and my reminiscing about my grad school days, surely you can just ignore that. Now, stop complaining or I’ll write a blog posting about my views on politics, who I just voted for and why, etc., etc….

  3. Someone says:

    «Microsoft is opening a large, very well-funded lab next to MIT to be run by two mathematical physicists.»

    But their main focus won’t be mathematical physics will it? If I understand this at all, it won’t be physics related at all.

    “we want to combine core computer science, especially the more mathematical and theoretical aspects of it, with the social sciences, and we want to do it in an environment in which we won’t just have researchers doing fantastic research side-by-side, but they also will be helping to create new fields at the boundary of computer science and the social sciences.”

    «Now, stop complaining or I’ll write a blog posting about my views on politics, who I just voted for and why, etc., etc….»

    Please don’t. I really think you do a great job with this blog and would hate to have it “tainted” by your personal view on those subjects.

    We already have some “huge variance” blogs for that. No need to loose this great blog to that inner demon.

  4. George Bell says:

    After hearing Jennifer talk at a recent MAA meeting, I’d categorize her more of a Mathematician/ Computer Scientist. Perhaps they are going to try to create a search engine that can beat Google in this think tank?

  5. Ali says:

    Hi Peter,
    From the links you provided, it seems like there will be only 4 staff members in this “large” research center, including Chayes and her husband. I do not understand what makes this worthwhile to be a news article in NY Times.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Ali,

    My understanding is that 4 is just the number of people starting the center, that the intent is for it to ultimately be much larger. Microsoft Research Cambridge (England) was started about 10 years ago with 3 researchers, now employs over 100, and I’m guessing that the intent is to reproduce that sort of thing in the other Cambridge.

    Not sure why the NYT chose to write about this, perhaps partly with the idea that anything new Microsoft is doing is newsworthy. It also is unfortunately true that the number of research centers of this kind, funded by corporations, but not devoted to directly applicable research, is extremely small, so this is noteworthy for that reason.

  7. AGeek says:

    On a more general level, so not specifically about this particular institute, am I the only one bothered by the deputy director being literally in bed with the director? Something about healthy organizations having checks and balances, and about not mixing private and professional roles…?

  8. Chris Oakley says:

    This new institute is probably a good thing. Maybe they will be able to persuade MS that (i) ISupportErrorInfo ought to be made to work in VB/VBA for module functions returning an HRESULT as well as COM classes [they ignored me when I pointed out the inconsistency a few years ago] and (ii) that allowing user-defined garbage collection schemes, as is currently possible for COM, would be a useful feature for .NET as well.

  9. Peter Woit says:

    AGeek,

    In this case I think de facto the two people involved will be jointly filling the same role of directing the center, so as long as they can work effectively together, I don’t see a problem. This situation is becoming pretty common in academic departments, where spouses are often hired together. It does open up all sorts of potential problems, but in practice these normally are not so difficult to deal with, and institutions find that dealing with them is better than dealing with faculty struggling with a two-body problem in other ways.

    Chris,

    I suspect that some problems in computer science will always remain beyond the capabilities of researchers to ever understand and solve…

  10. Peter Shor says:

    I suspect that there will be a small portion of the new center devoted to statistical mechanics. This is the research area of its directors, and they have already shown that statistical mechanics can be of some use to Microsoft’s business.

  11. Ali says:

    Ageek and Peter, I do not think there is any two-body problem involved here. As far as I know, Chayes and Borgs were hired in 1997 as separate individuals to Microsoft. Their marriage took place after they started working for Microsoft. There is no such thing as two-body hire in industry to the best of my knowledge. Two-body hires mostly occur in academia.

  12. Peter III says:

    Two-body hires definitely occur in industrial labs; I have seen them. Industrial labs are just as interested in getting really good people as academia, and if they have to hire another fairly good person to do so, why should they hesitate?

    In fact, in academia, sometimes Dept. A is unwilling to even consider hiring the spouse of somebody Dept. B is hiring, even if they are clearly better than many of the people currently in Dept. A, because they think it makes them look bad. I suspect this is less likely to occur in industry.

  13. Henry Cohn says:

    I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to get involved in speculation or debate here (I am one of the four initial MSR New England researchers), but I can report two things:

    The lab will definitely grow to be much larger than four people, and Jennifer and Christian were already married when they came to Microsoft.

  14. oz says:

    My question is – who will stay in the redmond research lab?
    Loosing four of its core members, including the two directors,
    will there still be a viable theory lab there? who is going to replace them?

  15. Henry Cohn says:

    My question is – who will stay in the redmond research lab?
    Loosing four of its core members, including the two directors,
    will there still be a viable theory lab there? who is going to replace them?

    There are several internal changes. Yuval Peres is replacing Jennifer and Christian as manager of the theory group at MSR Redmond, and Kristin Lauter is replacing me as manager of the crypto group. Eric Horvitz is taking on Jennifer’s role as the research area manager to whom both groups report.

    The crypto group still has almost all of its members. The theory group is losing a larger fraction of its members, but Oded Schramm and David Wilson are staying there along with Yuval, and I believe they intend to do some hiring. Yuval and Kristin have great plans for their groups, and Eric is very supportive, so I’m sure everything is going to go well.

  16. Peter Shor says:

    If just Yuval and Oded stay at Redmond, they will still have an incredibly strong group. Attracting new hires should not be a problem.

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