ATEC Team Receives Healthy Dose of Grants for Virtual Medical Work

Dr. Zielke and research team
Researchers from the Center for Modeling and Simulation and the Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab include, (from left), Stephen Rodriguez, Erik DeFries, Sean Lenox, Jacob Keul, Dr. Marjorie Zielke, Nick Orr, Gautham Mathialagan, Dylan Fino, research manager Gary Hardee, Leonard Evans, Djakhangir Zakhidov and Joel Rizzo.

A research team from the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at The University of Texas at Dallas has received two grants — one each from Southwestern Medical Foundation and the National Institutes for Health — to fuel ongoing research into virtual reality-based medical experiences.

The Center for Modeling and Simulation and the Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab, both led by ATEC professor Dr. Marjorie Zielke, are developing an emotive “Virtual Reality Patient,” or VRP, in conjunction with Southwestern Medical Foundation, that medical students will be able to use to improve their patient communication skills.

The center also has received a clinical trial planning grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to explore virtual reality-graded exposure therapy for those with chronic back pain.

“Both of these new projects continue to establish the center’s growing presence in the medical simulation space,” Zielke said. “Serious games for health and medicine along with our virtual humans program are both critical research areas that we want to continue to grow and nurture.”

Revolutionizing the Medical Interview with Virtual Reality Patients

virtual reality patients
A visualization of an emotive “virtual reality patient” experience is shown. The project, under development by Dr. Marge Zielke’s research team in the Center for Modeling and Simulation and the Virtual Humans and Synthetic Societies Lab, has received funding from Southwestern Medical Foundation.

Working alongside subject-matter experts at the UT Southwestern Medical Center, Zielke’s team hopes to create a platform that will replicate medical interviews with the help of virtual patients and caregivers.

Zielke said the platform will offer high-quality simulations, known as emotive Virtual Reality Patients, which can exhibit medical symptoms to help medical students improve their verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

The virtual humans will complement other training methods, and ideally possess a lifelike ability to have both a conversation and convey emotion — something Zielke said is particularly important in the interview process, given that patients express some things nonverbally.

“Virtual humans have always been a major focus for the center,” Zielke said. “We’ve been working on this project for quite a while, and we would really like this to be a stake in the ground for developing world-class research on virtual patients in Texas. We are very grateful for this grant from Southwestern Medical Foundation to continue our research track focused on virtual humans here at UT Dallas. We hope to develop one of the first augmented or virtual reality-based conversational digital patients right here in our lab.”

With the $200,000 grant from the foundation, Zielke’s team will first develop a state-of-the-art “natural language interface” capable of responsive and realistic communication, with the team compiling data on body language, facial cues and other physiological information.

Zielke said the center has long been interested in creating virtual robots that can either work in tandem, or in some cases, replace the need for medical mannequins often used in educational scenarios. The advantage of a training simulation is its potential to physically emulate what symptoms the patient is presenting.

Given the lab’s past work on game-based medical simulations featuring stroke patients, Zielke said her team has a rich backlog of data regarding stroke-specific dialogue and symptoms they can use as their first case in this new project.

“From its very beginning, Southwestern Medical Foundation has sought to advance medical knowledge to benefit our community,” said Kathleen Gibson, president and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “As new methods of advanced learning become available, we want to support those innovations that keep medical education at UT Southwestern at the forefront. This collaboration between UTD and UTSW is an exciting example of such innovation and progress.”

Serious Games for Serious Pain

The center — along with colleagues at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Ohio University and others — also has received a $700,000 grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop a serious game aimed at helping patients with chronic back pain.

Unlike most games, serious games are not designed to entertain but to teach, and they’re used in industries such as defense, education and health care. The game Zielke’s team is developing employs the use of graded exposure therapy, which is a method of reducing physical or psychological impairments through gradual exposure to the source of pain or fear.

Titled VRGE (Virtual Reality Graded Exposure), the game uses graded exposure to allay physical disabilities by promoting engagement in physical activities that might otherwise seem intimidating to patients with back pain.

Zielke said graded exposure therapy has traditionally been delivered in clinical settings, so its ability to help patients at home has been limited. VRGE will use motion-tracking technology, ongoing onboard assessments and motivational rewards within the game to reinforce traditional graded exposure therapy.

This ongoing project also received support from the American Pain Society and the North American Spine Society through Dr. Zina Trost at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 2015 and 2016.

Note: The research was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number R34DA040954. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

UX Design Marks Its Spot as Growing Career Path for ATEC Students

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology program and director of design and research for the ArtSciLab, trains students in user experience design. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design,” he said.

From Dell Technologies to Capital One, companies that rely on the use of intuitive customer experiences are finding a wealth of talented designers among students and alumni from theSchool of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UT Dallas.

The ArtSciLab — the school’s transdisciplinary research lab focused on the intersection of art and science — is immersing students into the field of user experience, or UX, design.

Cassini Nazir, clinical associate professor in the arts and technology (ATEC) program and director of design and research for the lab, said UT Dallas is emerging as a leader in UX education in North Texas.

“There’s a growing trend in more courses focused on user experience (UX) design and interaction design at colleges across the nation,” he said. “Many of these concepts have come out of human computer interaction concepts, but design research and UX have really emerged as disciplines in their own right. Industry has helped by investing in design researchers and user experience designers in their spaces.”

Nazir said more companies, both established and startup, are employing a design-centric ethos, cognizant of the role UX plays in customer relations.

The Design Value Index — an evolving metric that tracks the value of companies that meet specific design-related criteria — showed in 2014 that 15 design-driven companies had outperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index by 228 percent over 10 years.

Several enterprise-level companies such as Intuit and Sabre want to work with the ATEC program to recruit talent, he said.

“UTD has really benefited from it because there’s a boom of businesses setting up offices in Dallas,” said Nazir, who is part of the Dallas Design Council. “Many of those companies have been hiring teams of designers, and we’ve been successful in filling those needs.”

Emerging media and communication senior Lina Moon was selected to be a part of Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program, where she will spend two years learning about different fields such as interaction design and coding.

Clear Line to Job Opportunities

The lab has had students move into design positions at companies such as Sabre, Cisco Systems, AT&T, Siemens, General Motors, Fossil and J.C. Penney.

Debi Terry Ndindjock BA’13, a digital experience designer at Dell, first gained an interest in UX design while taking the interaction design course as a sophomore.

Ndindjock considered herself as purely a graphic designer, but she said she was intrigued by the psychological aspects of design, realizing UX design merges the two concepts.

“The turning point was when (design consultant) Stephen Anderson visited our class and spoke about his work,” she said. “I knew that was what I wanted to do. Since it is a relatively new field, we get a part in defining the industry as a whole.

“UX design requires such varied skills and education: visual design, writing, research and technology. You get to get in where you fit in.”

Cathryn Ploehn BA’14 said the same course — taught by Nazir — also propelled her into the field. Ploehn also served as designer for the ArtSciLab.

“Cassini’s enthusiasm was a gateway to taking further related courses, and finally a capstone in UX,” she said. “The application of the concept of empathy to design and development captivated me.”

Ploehn, who manages UX design problems and data visualization for Visionist Inc., said that developing a sense of empathy is fundamental to what makes user experiences successful.

“Really listen to what a person says to you both inside and outside of a user research setting,” she said. “Try to feel what it is like to be somebody else. Practice by exposing yourself to points of view beyond your comfort zone.”

For senior and UX Club president Lina Moon, there wasn’t an aha moment that led to an interest in UX design.

“I think being part of the UX Club as an officer and working in the ArtSciLab really gave me the confidence to pursue the field further, as it gave me a good support network and provided me access to more collective knowledge,” Moon said.

In July, Moon started a full-time position with Capital One’s inaugural Design Development Program.

The two-year program pairs students and recent graduates with a mentor who guides new associates through different fields such as interaction design and coding.

The growing demand for UX designers can be attributed, at least in part, to the growing demands of consumers of digital products. Nazir said designers often play the role of customer lobbyist, researching and voicing the needs of consumers to their business.

“Audience expectations of what constitutes a good experience are now much higher than they were in the past,” he said. “If businesses exist in a digital space — be it a website, app, digital kiosk — they need to invest in good design.”

Study Finds That Industry Norms Influence Journalists’ Ethical Behavior

Dr. Angela Lee
Dr. Angela Lee

Tasked with feeding the 24-hour news cycle, journalists must constantly consider the ethical nature of their reporting. A new study from UT Dallas suggests that their behavior is heavily influenced by industry peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Media Ethics, found that if journalists believed that others would approve of unethical behavior, they would be more likely to act unethically. Conversely, if they believed others were acting ethically, they were more likely to act ethically.

Dr. Angela Lee, assistant professor of emerging media and communication and the study’s author, divided her behavioral analysis into two types of social influence: descriptive norms and injunctive norms. Lee said that descriptive norms refer to what we think others do, whereas injunctive norms refer to what we think others want us to do.

“We applied these concepts from social psychology to journalism ethics and found that individual journalists may be more prone to act more ethically if they perceive ethical behavior is the norm in the field,” she said. “They are also more prone to act unethically if they perceive that unethical behavior is ‘approved of’ in the field.”

Lee found that descriptive norms account for almost half of the variance in ethical journalistic behaviors, while injunctive norms account for a little less than one-third of the variance in unethical journalistic behaviors.

She used the Reasoned Action Model (RAM), a classic persuasion model used in psychology, to explore the gap between journalists’ moral intentions and their actual behavior.

“The RAM theorizes that behavioral intention is the best predictor of behavior,” Lee said. “In other words, whether one is going to do ‘x’ is best predicted by whether one is ready and willing to engage in ‘x.’”

The study focused on a random sample of 374 journalists from 33 leading news outlets across all mediums, including The New York Times, NBC, USA Today and The Huffington Post.

Lee formulated six scenarios common among journalists to examine the ways injunctive and descriptive norms influenced their behavior:


  • Doing a story on an organization or club that you or someone in your family belongs to.
  • Using press releases or video releases without any editing or rewriting.
  • Editing elements of a photograph or video postproduction.
  • Adjusting image quality in a photograph.
  • Separating analysis and commentary from news reporting.
  • Reporting diverse perspectives in a story.

When asked about their most recent experiences, 20.6 percent of respondents had done a story on an organization or club that they or someone in their family belongs to; 49.3 percent had used a press or video release without any editing; 3.3 percent had edited elements of a photograph or video postproduction; 42.3 percent had adjusted the image quality of a photograph or video; 87 percent had separated analysis and commentary from news reporting; and 95.2 percent had reported diverse perspectives in a story.

Because of their special role in democratic societies, journalists have a professional obligation to deliver news information to the public responsibly and ethically.

Dr. Angela Lee,
assistant professor of emerging media and communication

Lee said it’s hard to say why the study shows descriptive norms have a stronger impact on ethical behavior, but research shows that journalists, compared with other professionals, are among the most capable of making good moral judgments. She said this weakens the impact of injunctive norms on unethical behavior.

Newsroom leaders can reinforce descriptive norms and curtail unethical behavior by regularly recognizing staff members who act ethically. On the other hand, news organizations also must make clear what is against the rules to reinforce injunctive norms, Lee said.

“Because of their special role in democratic societies, journalists have a professional obligation to deliver news information to the public responsibly and ethically,” Lee states in her paper. “Despite their notable moral compass, journalists do not always act on their abilities. Ways to encourage them to do so should be discovered and put into practice in newsrooms.”

Study Explores How Trustful Online Gamers Are with Their Information

Dr. Rosanna Guadagno

New research from UT Dallas shows that players of massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs, who are motivated by social elements of online play display more trust in fellow players and a greater willingness to disclose personal information, particularly when the players were members of participants’ guild.

In a recent pilot study, Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, associate professor of psychology and emerging media and communication, expanded upon a growing body of work that explores the idea of trust in player psychology.

“Since the early days of the internet, people have used the technology to meet and befriend strangers,” Guadagno said. “People have found spouses, long-lost relatives and have had many positive and negative experiences while disclosing personal information to the people we encounter online. MMOGs are one such unique online context in which people need the cooperation of others to achieve their game-related goals, regardless of whether they are achievement, social/relational or something else. Understanding the how and why people disclose personal feelings and experiences to other video game players is crucial to understanding the ways in which cooperation and trust form as players interact with each other and work toward both individual and group goals.”

Using player characterizations established by Nick Yee, co-founder of the game analytics consulting practice Quantic Foundry, Guadagno examined patterns in trust and self-disclosure among players of MMOGs. Yee characterizes “social” players as motivated by relationships and teamwork, while “achievement” players are considered their antithesis, valuing progress, optimization and domination.

Guadagno found that “achievement” players were less likely to trust and cooperate with other players, while “social” players exhibited higher levels of self-disclosure. Her study further demonstrated that players are more trusting of other players who are part of their guild — a group of players who share a common chat channel, group identifier and play together regularly, relative to players who belong to other guilds or are not in a guild.

Understanding the how and why people disclose personal feelings and experiences to other video game players is crucial to understanding the ways in which cooperation and trust form as players interact with each other and work toward both individual and group goals.

Dr. Rosanna Guadagno,
associate professor of psychology and emerging media and communication

The pilot study drew from a pool of 37 participants who were first asked to complete the Online Gaming Motivations Scale — developed by Yee and a team of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center — to determine their motivation type. Participants also were assessed based on their willingness to share information, items and personal details with other players as a function of their group membership.

Guadagno said future research will consider factors such as inclination to attack others in understanding how and why people trust and disclose information to people they only know through the computer screen.

“Social science research has long demonstrated that there is often a disconnect between the way people report their past behavior and what an outside observer might report,” she said. “This is in part because people do not always understand why they behave a certain way and in part because of biases in the way we interpret and report on our past behavior. Essentially, people want to look good in the eyes of others. Together, this makes it difficult to be 100 percent certain that self-reported behavior is accurate. So assessing real gameplay in the future will allow my research team to record events as they take place and this will result in more confidence in our findings.”

The research was presented at the 16th annual meeting of the Association of Internet Researchers in Phoenix.

Virtual Reality Scientist Wins CAREER Grant, Targets Training Programs

Dr. Ryan P. McMahan
Dr. Ryan McMahan

A prestigious grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support a UT Dallas computer scientist in exploring new ways that virtual reality can help companies improve their training programs and, ultimately, save lives.

Dr. Ryan McMahan, assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, recently was awarded a $544,000, five-year grant to pursue a novel approach to workplace training using virtual reality (VR) technologies. The NSF Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program provides support for junior faculty who have demonstrated outstanding research and teaching skills.

“My approach is new, which is why I think I received the CAREER award,” McMahan said. “My argument is that virtual reality will never be as realistic as the real world. But there are things we can do in VR that you can’t do in the real world — things that can improve the training process.”

McMahan is researching one approach to virtual reality that renders unimportant or irrelevant information at a lower fidelity while rendering important training information in a high-fidelity manner. This approach effectively directs the trainee’s attention to the key virtual objects relevant to the current training step.

Another training method being investigated by McMahan uses a cause-and-effect technique called time warping. When a person makes a mistake, the system will fast-forward the simulation to show the consequence of that mistake.

Take, for example, a training scenario on the preparation of an operating room. The VR user might touch a sterile tool with a non-sterile hand, contaminating the entire surgery.

“If we fast-forward the simulation, you’ll see the patient being brought in, you’ll see the surgery begin and then you’ll see how that contamination spreads to the patient,” McMahan said. “Then we’ll rewind back just before your mistake and let you fix your mistake. We’re really highlighting the cause and effect of the different things you should be focusing on.”

Variations on the training research also will involve purposely introducing errors to test the breadth of the trainee’s knowledge, requiring the trainee to recall necessary objects before they appear within the virtual environment and only accepting correct physical movements to execute training tasks, despite real-world physics allowing a greater set of motions.

My argument is that virtual reality will never be as realistic as the real world. But there are things we can do in VR that you can’t do in the real world — things that can improve the training process

Dr. Ryan McMahan,
assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communications

The VR training is intended to improve both cognitive and psychomotor skills.

Through another research grant, McMahan has been collaborating with Intuitive Surgical, the corporation that produces the da Vinci robot, to develop training solutions for robot-assisted operating room teams. He also has a collaboration with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) focused on the pre-shift inspections of off-highway trucks. McMahan will center his training research on these two areas.

“We focused on two domains so that we could demonstrate that our techniques can be applied to virtually any workplace situation,” McMahan said.

McMahan said his hope is that workers ultimately will learn more from the virtual reality training than from real-world exercises and that the VR training will be more efficient.

“If you can cut down on the time required to train people and, at the same time, improve the efficiency or the effectiveness of those trainings, then companies can save time and money while reducing injuries and deaths,” McMahan said. “We think we can positively impact a lot of industries in one fell swoop.”

Virtual reality provides computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional environment in which a person interacts in a seemingly real or physical way, typically by using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

McMahan is the 12th CAREER award holder in the Department of Computer Science. Other current and past recipients include Dr. Alvaro Cárdenas, Dr. Xiaohu Guo, Dr. Kevin Hamlen, Dr. Jason Jue, Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu, Dr. Zhiqiang Lin, Dr. Yang Liu, Dr. Andrian Marcus, Dr. Ravi Prakash, Dr. Balakrishnan Prabhakaran and Dr. Edwin Sha.

Professor and PhD Student Advance Anticipatory Research

UT Dallas Professor Mihai Nadin continues to advance the emerging and significant field of anticipatory studies with the publication of two new volumes in the highly respected Springer Cognitive Systems Monograph Series:

9783319225982Learning from the Past. Early Soviet/Russian contributions to a science of anticipation. Cognitive Science Monographs. Cham, CH: Springer. 2015


9783319194455Anticipation Across Disciplines, Cognitive Science Monographs. Cham CH: Springer. 2015


The work of Nadin and an international cadre of researches is joined in Anticipation Across Disciplines by UTD PhD student Asma Naz with her paper, Design of an Interactive Living Space:  Anticipations of Spatial Articulation in Computer-Mediated Human-Space Interaction.

This paper proposes design possibilities of an interactively modifiable space intended to support the lifestyle of neo-nomads. The design combines embedded computing technology with traditional architectural space-making techniques. It constitutes of a single interactive space that constantly articulates itself to produce a variety of aesthetic and emotive spatial qualities.

The integration of the virtual in the architecture for the neo-nomads (the guys who make the Silicon Valley the most exciting place on earth!) is creative and quite unique.


About Anticipatory Research at UT Dallas

With the recruitment of Dr. Mihai Nadin in 2004, the antÉ—Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems (aIRAS) continued its activity at the University of Texas at Dallas. The website provides details regarding the Institute’s goals, membership, activities, and accomplishments. Since the beginning of its activities, the following accomplishments are on record:

The AnticipationScope™: The first known applied method for quantifying anticipatory characteristics. Conceived by Dr. Nadin and implemented with the collaboration of ATEC’s Motion Capture Lab and faculty members from Computer Science and the School for Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Data generated in the AnticipationScope has supported 35 articles in peer-reviewed journals, three Masters degree projects, one PhD at UT Dallas and one in Europe. Two additional PhD projects are in progress.

Project Seneludens

Dedicated to the study of aging and how it affects anticipatory performance. Experiments were carried out, with IRB approval, with over 150 subjects to date (age between 6 years old and 94 years old). Of particular interest was the visit of Germaine Acogny (“The mother of African Dance”).  She performed her traditional program (in which almost everyone in her village in Senegal participates). The movements were captured in the AnticipationScope. These served as a movement prototype for the elaboration of a game, Amazing Grace. The game was entered in an international competition and internationally reported.

Play’s the Thing: A Wager on Healthy Aging, a study inspired by this experience, was published in 2010 in Serious Game Design and Development

Members of the Olympic Gymnastics team were tested in the AnticipationScope. Work on defining their Anticipatory Profile™ led to several publications, including “Anticipation – The Underlying Science of Sport. Report on Research Progress”.

In 2008, Dr. Nadin organized a special session on Anticipation and Risk Assessment within the framework of the conference Decision-Making Under Uncertainty (organized by Professor Alain Bensoussan, School of Management). Based on this session, a special issue of the journal Risk and Decision Analysis ( and was published.

The special issue dedicated to anticipation of the International Journal of General Systems (IJGS) provided an annotated reference bibliography on anticipation. The introductory article, Anticipation and Dynamics, was named IJGS Best Article of the Year 2010 by Taylor and Backwell Publishers. A second special issue of the IJGS (2015) was dedicated to the early contributions to a science of anticipation by scientists from Russia/USSR.

In collaboration with the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study, the Anticipation Across Disciplines Study Group was established in 2012. In this framework, three international conferences took place from 2014-2015. In writing to the participants, Dr. David Daniel (at that time UTD President) stated, “I am very proud that the Institute for Research in Anticipatory Systems at UT Dallas was able to play a vital role in bringing together such an esteemed international community. Generous funding from the Thyssen Foundation, German Science Foundation, and from the European Science Network is gratefully acknowledged and serves as an expression of the significance of the subject.” In this spirit, Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, President ad interim, provided assistance related to publication and the Institute’s continued international activity. (Conference details can be viewed at  and )

Faculty members of the UT system and from Texas A&M were invited (Dr. Frank Dufour, Dr. B. Prabhakaran, Dr. Daniel S. Levine, Roozbeh Jafari). Asma Naz, a Ph.D. candidate at ATEC, presented a paper at the second conference. Within the second conference, Elvira Nadin, Research Associate at the Institute, organized an event, Art in Progress, focused on anticipation (an article of the same title appears in the second volume).

So far, two volumes have been published:

Learning from the Past. Early Soviet/Russian contributions to a science of anticipation. Cognitive Science Monographs, Vol. 25 (508 pp.). Cham, CH: Springer

Anticipation Across Disciplines. Cognitive Science Monographs, Vol. 26 (373 pp.). Cham, CH: Springer (

The third volume, Anticipation and Medicine, will appear in 2016.

Funds from the Thyssen Foundation, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German National Science Foundation), the Metropole, as well as by the Hanse Wissenschaftskolleg, the antÉ Institute, and UT Dallas supported the conferences and publications.

The Institute provides data regarding anticipation to researchers world-wide, and supports new initiatives in education. In October 2015, Dr. Nadin met with faculty members at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg to discuss the focus on Anticipation in Cognitive, Literary, and Cultural Studies. A keynote address was delivered at the conference Modern Trends in the Neuroscience of the Human Brain, N.P. Bekhtereva Institute for the Human Brain of the Russian Academy (St. Petersburg, Russia; see, as well as at the Summer School in Semiotics at Tartu University (Estonia; see

Further contacts are in progress: the UNESCO Chair in Anticipation Studies, and a newly established graduate program, Anticipation in Engineering, at the University of Reading (England).

Currently, the focus is on experimental work in association with Duke University, in support of Asma Naz’s research focused on creating a new architecture for the “neo-nomads.” In keeping with the belief that medical practice is the best testing ground for anticipation, the Institute is also researching issues of Anticipation and Medicine (in collaboration with the Bemer Group, In parallel, predictive and anticipatory computing forms another concrete objective of the Institute’s.

The Institute maintains a vast international network of leading scientists. It also actively draws the attention of the Texas government to the significance of anticipation for the economy, environment, education, social policies, among other areas.







Collaborative Minds Bringing Sounds to Brain Data in Yearlong Project

CVL and ATEC research
From left: UT Dallas professors Dr. Gagan Wig, Scot Gresham-Lancaster and Dr. Roger Malina are working on a project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that may help you hear how your brain works. The three are looking at a 3-D model of the brain and a subset of its functional connections.

Data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have provided eye-popping pictures of the way the brain is wired, and allowed neuroscientists and laypeople alike to view intricate anatomical and functional connections between regions of the brain. But what if a new tool could be applied to MRI and other data, to listen to the way the brain works and how it is forged with connections?

An emerging effort to “sonify” imaging data is taking root at UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity, in the lab of Dr. Gagan Wig. The approach, now funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), allows data to be represented by sounds from which a trained listener might be able to discern patterns of brain connectivity not readily seen in available visualization strategies.

Wig, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is working with his UT Dallas colleagues Dr. Roger Malina, Arts and Technology Distinguished Chair, Scot Gresham-Lancaster, assistant professor in the sound design program in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, and a mix of scientists, computer programmers and artists to translate data to sight and sound.

The yearlong effort is designed to create a dynamic prototype tool that will enable exploration of brain connections in a three-dimensional interactive video game environment.

We have largely tried to understand how brain networks function by visualizing them. Certain insights, however, might be contained in a neural ‘song’ or signature that allows researchers to discern distinct rhythms or patterns of brain networks that might in themselves reflect sonic signatures, much like a chorus or the way a beehive might hum rhythmically with activity.

Dr. Gagan Wig,
assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences

The approach can be likened to the 1960s sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage, where a small medical crew was shrunk to microscopic size and injected into the bloodstream of an injured scientist, yielding a stunning panorama of visuals and sounds in the inner workings of the human vascular system, traveling in a small submarine to repair a blood clot in the brain.

“We have largely tried to understand how brain networks function by visualizing them,” Wig said. “Certain insights, however, might be contained in a neural ‘song’ or signature that allows researchers to discern distinct rhythms or patterns of brain networks that might in themselves reflect sonic signatures, much like a chorus or the way a beehive might hum rhythmically with activity.”

The team’s initial data set is functional brain connectivity MRI information collected from a large sample of healthy adults ranging in age from 20 to 89 years, taken while they were at rest. Initial results, based on analyzing the data using mathematical analysis and visualization of brain networks, were recently reported by Wig’s group in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In addition, the team is particularly emphasizing generating a user interface that allows a broader range of data sets to be incorporated, thus allowing use of data sets beyond ones studied by Wig’s lab

“The project aims both to create data exploration software for the use of the scientists, but also to enable performance,” Malina said. Gresham-Lancaster, with collaborating artists Tim Perkis and Andrew Blanton, will “perform” the data in art settings.

“Our new approach for representing complex patterns from information will have applications in medical research and also extend beyond the neuroscience domain,” Wig said. “The yearlong project will conclude with the development of a prototype that could be called or analogized to a data stethoscope that allows us to compare brain networks of healthy and unhealthy individuals,” just as standard stethoscopes are used by physicians to take vital signs and quickly determine abnormalities in the heart and lungs.


Media Contact: Alex Lyda, UT Dallas, (972) 883-3783,
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155,

Speed-Driven Journalism, Social Media Not Slowing Industry Struggles

Angela Lee

With the rise of speed-driven journalism, reporters face an industrywide expectation to use social media to engage readers. But new research from UT Dallas finds actual practices are falling short of that goal.

In her most recent study, Dr. Angela Lee, assistant professor ofEmerging Media and Communication, examined how journalists use social media in their pursuit for speedy news, and how they perceive their audiences are affected by tweets and posts.

Using in-depth interviews with 11 journalists from different national, metropolitan and local newspapers, Lee’s findings offer several reasons why social media may be unable to save news organizations from financial woes.

Published by The International Journal on Media Management, the study finds that despite an organizational expectation to use social media to engage audiences, journalists primarily use Twitter to communicate with other journalists.

“This study contributes to a larger body of work looking at the disconnect between journalists and news consumers,” Lee said. “Despite prevalent organizational expectations that journalists engage with audiences on social media, most interviewees have very little experience with, or knowledge of, their audiences.”

Although Lee did not conduct a content analysis of social media accounts, she said that interviewees use it to share their work and interests, as well as a form of keeping in touch.

The Pew Research Center’s State of the News Media report suggests that, even as print news remains the core product for most news organizations, the medium is in decline, with both revenue and circulation falling annually.

Despite prevalent organizational expectations that journalists engage with audiences on social media, most interviewees have very little experience with, or knowledge of, their audiences.

Dr. Angela Lee,
assistant professor of Emerging Media and Communication

According to the report, online operations are growing but at a snail’s pace. Digital advertising only accounts for a sliver of total ad revenue — 17 percent in 2014.

Despite these observations, journalists are not receiving institutional support or resources for audience engagement on social media, which could explain a lack of implementation, she said.

Platforms like Twitter do offer more opportunities for transparency in the newsgathering and delivery processes, but Lee argued that the economic value of such platforms is also crucial to most commercial news organizations in the U.S.

She suggested that the prospect of social media saving the newspaper industry from its financial woes is grim.

“When asked to assess the economic viability of Twitter as a news platform, most interviewees believed that while Twitter may encourage news use by serving as teasers, it is unlikely to encourage audiences’ willingness to pay,” she said. “So the question is, how do you save the news industry with a product that is unlikely to generate profit?”

Media Artist Explores Digital Labor, Teaches Humanity


For centuries, artists have utilized varying resources to create, educate, and inspire.  Developments in technology have enabled concepts in artistry to evolve from basic photographic innovations into developments branching into hyper-connected web communities utilizing a multitude of digital platforms.  For artists specializing in media, this ability to collaborate and engage globally allows for deeper humanitarian interpretations.

For media artist, author, and UT Dallas Associate Professor xtine Burrough, art-making is altruistic and multidimensional.  Her eye for deconstructing and reconstructing media to generate new perceptions of form and function are blended with classroom experience and corporate knowledge as a former Web Designer.  xtine’s conceptional, instructional, and technical skills from these experiences combine to a bring a greater meaning to her art, as well as fuel her desire to teach.

“I knew right away, this is where I want to be,” xtine shared while students gathered in the courtyard outside her office window.  “I want to be in the classroom.  I really like working with the students.”

xtine’s goal to invite participants, including students, into her work is part of a larger agenda to generate awareness.

Xtine-4394A previous collaboration with the Mechanical Turks, a digital workforce also known as Turkers, led to the creation of xtine’s most recent exhibit, Mediations on Digital Labor.

The exhibit aims to express concerns regarding interface and culture; predominately  worker’s rights.  While digital laborers have a variety of reasons for working on projects, pay is not comparable to the traditional workforce.  For this reason, professor Burrough hired the Turkers to do nothing.

That’s right – nothing.  Workers were hired to rest and report what it was like to do so for one to three minutes.

With this data, xtine visualized a gallery space.  Requiring fifty hours of creation, xtine drew the typography of her findings in chalk on the gallery’s black tiled floor, allowing patrons to experience her artwork by walking through the space.  As art-goers passed through the exhibit, the chalk interpretations of each worker was altered by footprints, signifying a loss of information.  Her message is a play on unencrypted data, as well as the faceless and nameless online workforce of the digital age.

With a range of interests in appropriation, culture jamming, montage, and translation, xtine’s expertise lends itself to broadening the observer’s experience by providing a fusion of said knowledge to explore.  Her knowledge of coding, for example, offers a unique behind-the-scenes perspective to technical-minded audiences.  Blending xtine’s use of visual concepts creates an arena where she hopes people will view her work as social projects that involve technology to “reach a certain level of humanity.”


xtine frequently updates her website missconceptionswhere she posts information on her projects such as On the Web and Walk on Wire, as well as information about her speaking engagements, publications, and other previous exhibits, such as Mechanical/Olympic Games, which placed as an Honoree in the 2009 Webby “Weird Category”.

This story was originally produced by   for the Office of Research at UT Dallas