SIAT alum awarded Virtual Reality Best Dissertation Award

March 14, 2022

This week, SIAT alumnus Dr. Mayra Donaji Barrera Machuca was awarded with the IEEE Visualization and Graphics Technical Committee’s (VGTC) Virtual Reality Best Dissertation Award.

The award is presented each year to the author of the most outstanding PhD dissertation in the areas of virtual and augmented reality and was presented to Barrera Machuca at the 2022 IEEE Conference on Virtual Reality and 3D User Interfaces taking place from March 12-16, 2022.

“It is a great honour to win such an important award as it shows me that all the sacrifices and hard work paid off,” says Barrera Machuca. “It also shows me that my research topic is important for the AR/VR researchers’ community, so I will continue working and do my best to create better user interfaces for VR/AR.”

Before joining SIAT, Barrera Machuca completed a Bachelor of Arts in Animation and Digital Art from Tecnológico de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico and a Master of Science in Creative Media Technologies from the University of Tasmania.

She joined SIAT for her PhD studies in the fall of 2015 and, under the supervision of professor Dr. Wolfgang Stuerzlinger, she completed her award-winning PhD dissertation in Interactive Arts & Technology in 2020.

During her PhD, Barrera Machuca studied human-computer interaction with a focus on gaining a better understanding of how people think when working inside 3D virtual environments.

3D immersive sketches from Barrera Machuca's research that demonstrate the differing spatial abilities of users working in 3D virtual environments.

Her award-winning PhD dissertation “Toward more accurate immersive 3D sketching” explores the reasons behind users’ reduced accuracy when drawing in 3D virtual environments and the cognitive and perceptual limitations that affect users within these environments.

“Inside the AR/VR research field, I focus on 3D sketching because I found it fascinating that most people can draw a 2D cube with pen and paper, but when asking to do the same in 3D, they can’t,” explains Barrera Machuca.

As part of this research, Barrera Machuca also developed user interfaces such as Smart3DGuides that help novice users draw and express their ideas more accurately in virtual reality by employing visual guides that help users identify errors when planning their strokes.

Four different projects emerged during Barrera Machuca’s research, all of which were ultimately published and are presented in her cumulative format dissertation. These four projects include a study analyzing the behaviours of users with different spatial abilities while drawing in VR, a study exploring the limitations of stereo displays and how they can affect 3D interaction, and studies on two 3D user interfaces that facilitate the 3D drawing experience—Multiplanes and Smart3DGuides.

Following her PhD, Barrera Machuca continued on at SIAT as a postdoctoral fellow working with professor Dr. Steve DiPaola at SIAT’s iVizLab. During this time, Barrera Machuca and DiPaola were awarded a MITACS fellowship for their project analyzing 3D spatial-temporal data with the objective of providing better user assessment methods.

Post-graduation Barrera Machuca also played an instrumental role in research that shows that current commercial virtual and augmented reality displays affect 3D pointing movements negatively.

This work will appear in May at ACM CHI, the premier publication venue in human-computer interaction research.

“I am very proud of Mayra," says Stuerzlinger, Barrera Machuca's PhD supervisor at SIAT. "She demonstrated that she can not only design, implement, and evaluate new 3D user interfaces, but also publish them in high-profile venues, such as ACM CHI, the premier publication venue in human-computer interaction research."

“I want to thank Wolfgang Stuerzlinger for being a great supervisor who was always open to hearing my crazy ideas and providing me with the support to achieve them,” says Barrera Machuca. “I also want to thank the members of my research committee, Steve DiPaola and John Dill, and my long-term collaborator Paul Asente for their guidance and support during my PhD.”

Barrera Machuca is now a faculty member in the Faculty at Computer Science at Dalhousie University where she continues to research human-computer interaction and work on VR and AR user interface design. Her current research focuses on understanding the depth and spatial perception issues of working directly in 3D virtual environments and in creating user interfaces that solve these issues.

Learn more about Barrera Machuca’s research here.