Avatar research nets student a finalist spot in Computing Research Association’s undergraduate competition


Erin McManus

Junior Erin McManus, a computer science and mathematics major, has been named a finalist in the Computing Research Association’s Outstanding Undergraduate Researcher Award competition for 2011.

“It was a definitely a nice surprise,” said McManus, who was nominated by Robert Bodenheimer, associate professor of computer science.

The CRA award program recognizes undergraduate students in North American universities who show outstanding research potential in an area of computing research. In addition to award winners, a small number of other outstanding candidates are recognized as runners-up and finalists.

McManus conducted research in the summer at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics (MPI) in Tuebingen, Germany. As a rising senior, McManus also will begin work on her master’s program in the fall.

Erin McManus
McManus wears a motion capture suit in a German lab.

McManus used MPI’s state-of-the-art tracking hall to design and run an experiment in virtual reality under the supervision of researcher Betty Mohler and with the support of Heinrich Buelthoff.

The team looked at the effects of both self and third-person avatars on human performance in virtual environments on distance estimation, object interaction and complex locomotion tasks. This was collaborative research between MPI and Bodenheimer’s Learning in Virtual Environments lab in the department of electrical engineering and computer science.

In the 2011 competition, there was one female award winner (Princeton), two male award winners (Princeton and Harvard) and two male runners-up awards. McManus was one of six female finalists. The other five represent Virginia Tech, Yale, Queen’s University, University of Rochester and the University of Minnesota.

Microsoft is the sponsor of this year’s CRA undergraduate awards competition.