June 16, 2022

Meta Research PhD Fellowship Spotlight: Helping the human condition with virtual reality

By: Meta Research

Each year, PhD students from around the world apply for the Meta Research PhD Fellowship, a program designed to encourage and support promising doctoral students who are engaged in innovative and relevant research related to computer science and engineering. Fellowship recipients receive tuition funding for up to two years to conduct their research at their respective universities, independently of Meta.

As a continuation of our Fellowship spotlight series, we’re highlighting 2021 Meta Research PhD Fellow Logan Clark.

Logan is a fifth-year PhD student at the University of Virginia and is advised by Sara Riggs. His broad research interests include human factors (HF), cognitive systems engineering, and user experience, underscored by a passion for shaping emerging technologies into resilient, human-friendly systems. Logan’s current research seeks to extend kinematic analyses of human arm movements to quantify, understand, and predict 3D interactions with virtual reality (VR) interfaces.

Like many Meta Research PhD Fellows, Logan aspires to spend his career solving interesting problems. What sets him apart is why. Logan describes HF as “helping people and technology get along better” — a focus that shaped his BS in psychology at the University of Central Florida but began much earlier.

“I decided I might want to pursue a PhD in HF near the end of high school,” says Logan. “I’ve come to believe in the value of taking a human-centered approach to designing complex human-machine systems.” In a world where engineers build technology and bend humans around it, Logan wants to lead with a human-first mindset. He references the Three Mile Island accident as just one life-and-death situation where people needed to process large volumes of data to make quick decisions but the technology failed them. “I see human factors as more than just providing an interesting set of problems to work on — it’s also an opportunity to leave the world a safer and more effective place than I found it.”

Positive impact has become Logan’s litmus test when selecting research topics. “I ask myself, ‘Will the outcome of this work directly improve someone’s life?’” Logan explains. “If the answer is yes, I can move forward. If the answer is no, I don’t. Hopefully, I’ve already started to make a positive impact with my current research, and I hope to continue.”

This interest in HF and the human condition is what led Logan to apply to the Meta PhD Fellowship. As a fellow, Logan is exploring new applications for VR and kinematic analysis, a century-old technique used to understand how people plan and control their arm movements. “By offering a cheap way of recording the data needed for these analyses, modern virtual reality systems like the Oculus Quest can let us take kinematic analysis outside the lab to solve practical problems in the real world,” says Logan. “I’m working to enable this by exploring how virtual reality–based kinematic analyses can be used in settings ranging from usability testing to stroke rehabilitation.”

With VR and AR technology rising in popularity, Logan believes this type of HF research can and should be applied across a wide range of industries. He looks forward to advancing the processes involved in understanding motor behavior in virtual environments and hopes to pave the way for translating decades of laboratory-based motor control research into practical application.

To learn about award details, eligibility, and more, visit the PhD Fellowship program page. To learn more about Logan Clark, visit his Fellowship profile and website.