Teaching & research interests

Diane Gromala, PhD, is a Distinguished SFU Professor in the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT). She builds bridges spanning technology (design, HCI, and engineering) and health (researchers, clinicians, patients and their advocates).

Prior to joining SFU, Dr. Gromala developed transdisciplinary technology curricula as a faculty member at Georgia Tech, the University of Washington, and the University of Texas.

Dr. Gromala designs and builds innovative interactive health technologies, and tests them in a two-pronged approach: with health experts in clinical domains, and in patients’ homes. Currently, she is working to certify two of her VR systems with Health Canada and the FDA in order to deploy them in the real world. In teaching and research, Dr. Gromala’s goals are to explore the ways in which technological interventions can help people who live with chronic conditions to:

• better manage their condition,
• augment and improve their ability to function, and
• help improve their quality of life.

As the Founding Director of the Pain Studies Lab, Dr. Gromala and her team of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers closely collaborate with health experts in pain medicine, neuroscience, psychology, and kinesiology to name a few. Her lab is known as an engaging, curious set of spaces populated by friendly grad students and frequent visitors. Its walls are full of  medical visualizations, post-it notes and sketches, and its cabinets are stuffed with fabrication, electronic, and sound gear. Fibre optic cables hang from ceiling grids, and a theramin seems to do the rounds.

Her research interests:

• Human-computer Interaction (HCI)      • Immersive VR (graphics & video)
• Interaction Design
     •  Human electrophysiology, biofeedback sensors
• Embodiment
     • Personal visual analytics
• Neuroplasticity  
     • Pain modulation

Dr. Gromala’s research projects combine qualitative and quantitative research methods including: patient-centred design, participatory design, and microethnographies to the evidence-based biopsychosocial approaches common in pain medicine. Ultimately, Dr. Gromala’s interactive health technologies are tested in RCTs (randomized control trials), the gold standard for health research. Increasingly, she is working with neuroscientists to explore long-lasting, neuroplastic brain changes via fMRI studies.

Dr. Gromala’s health technologies are deeply informed by her industry experience as a designer at Apple Computer in the ‘80s, and her pioneering work in VR that began in the ‘90s. Thus, she focuses on redefining ease-of-use, accessibility, immersion, fun and delight. Yet “under the hood,” her VR systems include biosensors, data tracking, modest AI, and haptic feedback. These systems provide patients with specific “dosages” of VR. After each VR session, a patient’s data is visualized and accessible via a printable, web-based dashboard that can be shared with clinicians. Her adaptive VR systems are an example of personalized medicine, and she subjects them to continual scrutiny by patients, pain doctors, and mental health experts.

In what others see as a paradox, Dr. Gromala’s research interests in exteroception (our 5 senses) and interoception (inner sensation) also lead to more speculative design and experimentation in proprioception, wearable technology, and a continuum that refocuses VR/AR/MR into questions of human experience, sensory awareness, and “posthuman” connectedness with humans, animals, and the natural world.

Graduate students who earn their PhD under Dr. Gromala’s supervision find faculty positions at universities in Canada, England, New Zealand, and the U.S., such as at the University of Washington’s HCI+Design. Others work in industry R&D or head up educational programming at non-profits like PainBC. Students who earn their MSc or MA typically work as designers at Amazon, Apple, Archiact, EA (Electronic Arts), Facebook, Google, Microsoft, SAP and Sonos; or in health-related companies or entities such as BC Children’s Hospital. Several grads head their own start-up companies.

Dr. Gromala’s graduate students are distinguished by additional training and experiences in health domains, direct interaction with medical professionals, and concrete experience with patients, their caregivers, and other stakeholders, such as the BC Ministry of Health or Canada-wide research networks like AGEWELL. During their degree work, Dr. Gromala’s graduate students have won numerous awards in design, tech innovation, and game design. They participate in ACM, IEEE, Design Principles & Practices, and CHI competitions, exhibit in CSCW, CHI and SIGGRAPH, and win Best Papers and Posters at health conferences.

Research Funding

Dr. Gromala’s research is funded by NSERC, CIHR, SSHRC, the CRC, AGEWELL NCE, and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) in Canada, and the NSF (National Science Foundation) and the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in the U.S.

With Jay Bolter, Dr. Gromala authored the book Windows and Mirrors, published by the MITPress in four languages. She is the author of over 100 scientific, design, and health publications with real-world impact in clinical and educational environments. The recipient of awards from national and international organizations, Dr. Gromala’s work has been featured in the media including: the Discovery Channel, Discover magazine, The New York Times, the BBC, and CNN. The innovative nature of her research was one of the first to be flagged by Google’s Solve for-X. In 2017, with colleagues Dr. Faranak Farzan (Mechatronics) and Dr. Sylvain Moreno (SIAT), Dr. Gromala won the Grand Prize at Stanford’s Innovation Lab during the VR and Behavior Change Conference.


  • PhD, Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, University of Plymouth, UK (2007)
  • MFA, Graduate Studies in Design, Yale University (1990)
  • BFA, Design & Photography, University of Michigan (1982), University Honors

Current & upcoming courses

This instructor is currently not teaching any courses.