media release

SFU grad student recognized for virtual reality design paper

International conference award for graduate researcher in the SFU Surrey campus Pain Studies Lab

April 17, 2015

Xin Tong, School of Interactive Arts and Technology,
Diane Gromala, professor, School of Interactive Arts and Technology,
Allen Tung, University Communications, 778.782.3210;


Simon Fraser University interactive arts and technology graduate student Xin Tong is a Graduate Scholar Award recipient at the 2015 International Conference on Design Principles & Practices.

The focus of this year’s conference was industrial, post-industrial and neo-industrial design. Tong presented her paper, written in collaboration with supervisor, professor Diane Gromala, on how virtual reality interaction design should take into consideration the embodied mind idea. Research shows we think not only with our brains, but also our bodies.

Tong was among 10 outstanding graduate students from Brazil, Canada, Columbia, England, Japan and the United States to receive the award, recognizing their active academic interest in the conference focus.

“It’s an amazing feeling to have my theoretical research and the Pain Studies Lab’s vision acknowledged,” she says. “It also means my pursuit of using design and an interdisciplinary approach to benefit people is beginning to come true.”

Tong is currently a research assistant in SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology Pain Studies Lab. Led by Gromala with professor Chris Shaw, the lab studies, invents and designs technologies for people who live with persistent pain.

At the lab, Tong lends her theoretical expertise to the Möbious Floe and Chronic Weather projects as well as wearables for post-surgical rehabilitation.

“For the specific project I’m working on, our targeted users are girls with scoliosis,” she explains. “They experience anxiety while waiting to undergo spinal correction surgery and before the actual process itself.”

The Pain Studies Lab is currently collaborating with doctors from BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre to setup focus groups. They want to see whether it is viable for scoliosis patients to use virtual reality to reduce anxiety and post-surgical pain.

For her Master’s thesis, Tong is looking into if gamification through a wearable health-tracking device and mobile game—similar to a Fitbit and Tamagotchi—is an effective and efficient method to encourage exercise.

The device would track health data such as the number of steps taken and calories burnt in a day. This data would be converted into ‘points’ for a virtual pet keeping game.

“You use the health points collected by the health tracker as game points to play and interact with your virtual pet, which actually represents your own health,” she explains.

Tong, who has applied to be a PhD student in the fall, will be presenting her thesis this summer.

As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement.  SFU was founded almost 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is a leader amongst Canada's comprehensive research universities and is ranked one of the top universities in the world under 50 years of age. With campuses in British Columbia's three largest cities—Vancouver, Surrey and Burnaby—SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 30,000 students, and boasts more than 130,000 alumni in 130 countries around the world.


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.

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