A meeting of the minds: Google's 2010 EMEA Faculty Summit

As the world's premier athletes assembled in Vancouver for the Winter Games, Googlers in the equally snowy Zurich, Switzerland were preparing for a prestigious event of a different sort. On February 8, 100 top academics from 62 leading universities throughout EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) descended upon our Zurich engineering headquarters for our third annual Faculty Summit — three days of in-depth technical presentations, discussions and networking sessions, all targeted at strengthening partnerships with EMEA's foremost computer science thinkers. Like their athletic counterparts in Vancouver, Faculty Summit attendees face big challenges. EMEA is a huge and very diverse region where companies and universities alike have huge mountains to climb. By sharing information about our projects, plans and initiatives, we hope to foster mutually beneficial relationships with our academic colleagues and their universities — working together to solve the big problems and drive technology forward.

We designed the Summit to allow maximum potential for debate, networking and reflection. Attendees participated in day-long "stream" discussions on themes ranging from privacy and security — with the participation of leading researchers such as Ross Anderson (University of Cambridge) — to natural language technologies, featuring NLP expert Fred Jelinek (Johns Hopkins University). Academics selected from a range of opt-in "teach the teacher"-style workshops on Google tech (including mobile platforms, MapReduce and web technologies). Additional events included a Google Wave demo geared towards educational use and special sessions for guests from Africa and the Middle East, showcasing Google's ongoing work in these regions. This year, we added extra time for 1-1 break-out sessions, in which academics and Google engineers met, chatted and developed ideas in an intimate, face-to-face setting.

The Summit also gave us a chance to see long-term relationships maturing and generating concrete outcomes inside and outside academic settings. Notable guests included keynote speaker Professor Andy Hopper, Head of the Cambridge Computer Lab, whose research initiative Computing for the Future of the Planet (CFTFP) received a Google Focused Research Award earlier this month. Andy's project promises major results in the areas of privacy and green computing research. We were also happy to welcome back former Google Visiting Faculty member Professor Hannah Bast (University of Freiburg). Hannah recently completed a year-long sabbatical with our Zurich development team for Transit in Google Maps, contributing major improvements to an application that started out as a 20 percent project and is now available in over 400 cities around the world. Privacy and security expert Dr. Frank Stajano (University of Cambridge) — our newest Visiting Faculty member — and Sara Adams, Anita Borg Scholar, former Google intern and current software engineer, joined us from the Munich office where they're working on privacy-related projects. We also had several Faculty Research Award winners in attendance, including Dr. Simon Harper (University of Manchester), Dr. Miles Osborne (University of Edinburgh), Lawrence Muchemi (University of Nairobi) and former Visiting Faculty member Dr. Hinrich Schuetze (University of Stuttgart). The Faculty Research Award supports academics working within universities on areas of mutual interest; for instance, Lawrence's Award-funded project creates a new mobile application development course for Kenyan students, while Hinrich and his Stuttgart team are improving search engine results by investigating the structure of queries. Hinrich, Lawrence and our other awardees offer examples of how partnerships can lead to amazing results, on local to global scales. We hope their stories inspired both academic and Googler attendees to take advantage of existing programs and help build new opportunities for all tech users.

Our engineering teams in EMEA and our academic partners have lots of work to do in 2010. This year's Faculty Summit offered an opportunity to explore new solutions, kick-start collaboration and prove, yet again, that our combined efforts always yield results far greater than the sum of their parts! For more information about how Google supports university programs and partnerships, check out our Google Research site and stay tuned for news of the North America Faculty Summit — planned for late July.