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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 02 

New Microsoft TV commercial features Computer Science's Wu Feng and his efforts to spur medical discoveries

February 3, 2015

Wu Feng filming Microsoft commercial
Professor Wu Feng of the Virginia Tech Department of Computer Science during a moment of filming at Burruss Hall for a Microsoft-sponsored commercial that will air in North America and Europe.

Microsoft Corp. debuted a television commercial this week filmed on Virginia Tech’s campus and featuring Wu Feng, a professor in the College of Engineering.

The commercial highlights Feng’s collaboration with medical researchers at Virginia Tech and other research centers with such programs as Computing in the Cloud. It is expected to air across North American and Europe as part of the company’s global advertising campaign.

The commercial is part of a combined print and television advertising campaign by Microsoft that focuses on individuals and organizations the company calls “leaders in harnessing supercomputer powers to deliver lifesaving treatments.”  

“This campaign celebrates people and organizations and the amazing things they do with our technology,” said Kathleen Hall, corporate vice president of global advertising and media at Microsoft. “What could be more amazing than using the cloud to speed up analysis that could potentially help find a cure for cancer?”

There are two versions of the commercial featuring Feng, a professor in the Department of Computer Science. The first is a 30-second spot airing on cable channels such as ESPN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and programs such as “The Daily Show” and “Late Night with David Letterman.” A longer, 100-second version is available online and features more dialogue from Feng.

A film crew visited campus twice to shoot the commercial with Feng, once in October for exterior shots and later in November for interior shots. Interior filming took place at Torgersen Bridge, a lecture hall and the third-floor Visionarium lab – also part of computer science -- at Torgersen Hall, Goodwin Hall, Burruss Hall, and a “wet” laboratory with post-doctorate research fellow Zalman Vaksman at Virginia Bioinfomatics Institute.

Dozens of students appear as extras in a classroom and the Torgersen Bridge study area.

“I’m just one person in the grand scheme of things and I hope this can inspire people to reach out and find ways to work together to solve a very important problem and be of benefit to society,” Feng said.

The TV spot hits on the theme that research that once took weeks now happens in hours. Using Microsoft hardware products Azure and HDInsight, scientists at Virginia Tech and elsewhere can harness supercomputing power to analyze vast amounts of DNA sequencing data. Much of the works takes place inside the Microsoft-operated cloud, where data limits are no longer an issue.

As part of the print campaign, Microsoft has run full-page ads featuring Virginia Tech and Feng in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, Time, Popular Mechanics, and Wired, among others.

“We are thrilled that our department’s cutting-edge research in parallel computing and use of Azure, the Microsoft cloud framework, is being featured in a national advertising campaign,” said Barbara Ryder, department head of computer science. “Wu is a creative faculty member whose many contributions include leading large research collaborations, supervising award-winning undergraduate and graduate students, and contributing to efforts to diversify computing.”

In 2011, Feng and another Virginia Tech researcher were the first to win the worldwide award from the NVIDIA Foundation’s “Compute the Cure” program. The award is designed to spur faster genome analysis to make it easier for researchers to identify mutations relevant to cancer.

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