Hometown: Phoenix, Arizona, United States
Graduation date: Spring 2024
Additional details: Honors student
GCSP research stipend | Fall 2023
Immersive and Interactive Visualizations using Virtual Reality
This research aims to build and investigate virtual reality (VR) tools designed to enrich educational experiences. Key features of this work currently include a 3D graph visualizer, a student engagement tracker, a climate data globe, and stock market visualizer. By seamlessly integrating these features into the learning environment, this research aims to transform traditional education of different fields into an engaging and data-driven journey. Traditional education often faces challenges in engaging students and effectively harnessing data for personalized learning. This project addresses these issues by leveraging the capabilities of VR technology to create interactive and captivating educational environments that stimulate curiosity, boost engagement, and improve information retention by providing hands-on, experiential learning experiences.
Mentor: Robert LiKamWa
Featured project | Fall 2023
Computer science junior Neha Balamurugan is a GCSP student conducting research to help students better visualize data through virtual reality. She has participated in research since her first year at ASU and has gained new skills to apply to her passion for math and puzzles in impactful ways. Her current research, supported through the GCSP research stipend program, is advancing her work to address the National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenge theme of Joy of Living. Balamurugan has been working on this research area for several semesters with Robert LiKamWa, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering in the Fulton Schools with a joint appointment in ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering.
What made you want to get involved in this program? Why did you choose the project you’re working on?
For my National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates project in the summer of 2022, I worked with Dr. LiKamWa on visualizing fluid dynamic models in virtual reality. This was my introduction to virtual reality, ASU’s Meteor Studio and Dr. LiKamWa. I really enjoyed working with virtual reality and saw its potential to revolutionize the way we communicate data. After the summer internship, I came back to Meteor to pick up and expand on my research.
What has been your most memorable experience as a student researcher in this program?
One of the most memorable moments was when I got to meet Walter Parkes, a producer, director and co-founder of Dreamscape. He visits the Dreamscape Learn pods we have for presentations and guest lectures. I was able to interact with him and talk about my research and it was really refreshing to meet one of the biggest minds in the industry. Holding a conversation with him made me realize how passionate he is about this work and how much potential the work I am involved in has for revolutionizing storytelling and education.
I truly enjoy the people-centric aspect of this line of research. I get to interact with a lot of people, and it is refreshing to be able to express my thoughts and get feedback.
How do you see this experience helping with your career or advanced degree goals?
This experience helped me solidify my career goals in multiple ways. I’ve always been interested in intellectual exploration and have known that I wanted to go to grad school for that. However, it was this experience that has helped me narrow my focus and technical interest to the topics that I will be exploring in graduate school. Before my involvement with Meteor, I had not worked with Virtual Reality nor had I developed games, but now everything I work on, both within the lab and outside, involves gamification and mixed reality. I am thrilled for how impactful this technology is going to be in shaping our approach to information and it is exciting to have the opportunity to contribute toward this goal.
What is the best advice you’ve gotten from members of the Meteor Lab?
One of the doctoral students I closely work with has given me some of the most impactful career and personal advice I have ever received. When I was having a difficult time trying to decide if I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree myself, he carved time and elaborately explained his reasons for getting one. He introduced me to the power of creating a vision board. He taught me how to think and decide meaningfully. He told me that if an activity doesn’t align with my vision board, I should either reconsider the activity or my vision. I believe this is a powerful way to prioritize and be purposeful. He also constantly challenges me intellectually to think, speak and express myself in different ways. I find it hard to come by people who are purposeful, but I have met some of the best characters in my coworkers and mentors at Meteor. I am happy to be working with such high-achieving, motivated and altruistic people in my lab.
Why should other students get involved in this program?
I think all undergraduate students should consider getting involved in research. I believe research involvement is one of the best ways to cultivate critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills during a period when students do not have a set career trajectory. It is a practical outlet for applying one’s academic knowledge and exploring novel ideas. Working alongside experienced researchers offers mentorship and opportunities for intellectual growth that extend beyond the confines of traditional coursework. I have met some of the most dedicated and interesting people during my time at Meteor Studio.
In addition to technical involvement, interacting with researchers instills a sense of admiration and pushes them toward their own growth and curiosity. Participation in research projects facilitates networking, allowing students to connect with peers who share similar academic interests and can collaborate on meaningful projects. Finally, the GCSP program and the research stipend motivates students to pursue this path in a more sustainable manner with the financial support.