Institute for IDEAS

Institute for Immersive Designs, Experiences, Applications, and Stories

Funding and Partnerships

Institute for IDEAS collaborates with universities and industry partners worldwide. In addition, faculty affiliated with the Institute for IDEAS participate in a variety of ongoing collaborations and partnerships with NASA, Princeton University, UC Davis, LIGO, and more. 
If you represent an institution, private or public, interested in immersive technologies, please contact us at pietrosz@american.edu.

The Institute for IDEAS is externally funded by federal research agencies and non-profit foundations. To date, the faculty afiliated with the Institute for IDEAS raised over $10,000,000 in external funding. 

George Washington University

Currently, we have two active research projects with George Washington University. The first project, funded by $1.5m NSF grant, focuses on using volumetric capture and spatial computing to augment the training process for remote medical personnel. The second project is the immersive educational system for teaching proportional reasoning using brainwaves to modulate difficulty.

California State Polytechnic University

Our collaboration with Cal Poly involve a number of immersive educational projects. The faculty at the Institute for IDEAS has coauthored a number of papers with Cal Poly faculty and are currently working on five research projects, of which three are led by Cal Poly and two by the Institute for IDEAS.

Graz University of Technology, Austria

Currently, Institute for IDEAS hosts a visiting scholar from Graz University of Technology, who works on a virtual reality deep learning project that has both research and commercial potential. 


University of Waterloo, Canada

Top-ranked in Computer Science, University of Waterloo faculty coauthored many papers of the Institute for IDEAS and are actively engaged in current research projects. 


Immersive Learning and Research Network

Institute for IDEAS is a part of Immersive Learning and Research Network, an international organization associating faculty and institutions related to immersive technologies and media.

Currently Funded Projects

National Science Foundation:

Dr. Krzysztof Pietroszek - $602,000 (telehealth communication research)

Project: Augmenting Remote Medical Procedure Training and Assistance with Spatial Computing and Volumetric Capture

Abstract: Healthcare expenditure accounts for 17% of the US Gross Domestic Product and 12% of the workforce, but access to highly skilled health professionals is not evenly distributed across geographic and socioeconomic strata. Videoconferencing-based telehealth systems partly address this inequality by enabling experts to assist and train remote or rural medical personnel. However, videoconferencing alone cannot adequately convey three-dimensional information that is essential in performing many medical procedures. For example, it is very difficult for an expert to precisely guide an operator's hand remotely in performing a medical procedure using only videoconferencing. This project will transform the way medical personnel communicates and collaborates across the distance by allowing for real-time exchange of three-dimensional information that is missing in current videoconferencing telehealth. The project will lead to more equitable access to healthcare; improved success for medical procedures that require the assistance of a remote expert; more cost-effective distribution of healthcare skills and training; and higher quality expert medical advice from a distance. It will also engage students in interdisciplinary research using emerging technology.

Dr. Mark Nelson - $174,000 (Artificial Intelligence research)

Project: Characterizing Algorithm-Relative Difficulty of Agent Benchmarks

Abstract: There are a wide variety of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms designed to make decisions for a number of different real-world problems. One important task of AI research is to determine how well these algorithms solve various problems. Researchers often use smaller problems such as games to study algorithmic decision-making. For example, the game Go can be used to test strategic decision-making, or arcade games to test tactical decision-making. How hard these test problems are may vary for different algorithms, and can depend on factors such as how much computation time is available. The purpose of this project is to systematically understand the difficulty that AI challenge problems pose to standard decision-making algorithms, as well as how robust such conclusions are to variations in problem design, problem size, computational resources, and algorithm configuration.

Dr. Gregory Harry - $504,000 + $91,000 (gravitational waves research)

Project:  Integrated Research and Education on Gravitational Wave Detector Optics

Abstract: This CAREER grant supports work on optics research to improve the sensitivity of gravitational wave detectors and other precision optical measurements as well as using expertise in optics to organize and host a day of fun competition, the Optics Olympiad, for Washington DC high school students. Gravitational waves come from Einstein's theory of gravity, and are one of the few specific predictions of Einstein's theory that can be experimentally checked against other theories of gravity (like Isaac Newton's). Determining if Einstein's, Newton's, or perhaps some other theory of gravity correctly describes our universe is necessary to developing a complete understanding of the laws of nature. This experiment is being performed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) with two large, four kilometer long detectors in Louisiana and Washington state. Once gravitational waves are detected by LIGO, these detections will serve as another method of studying the universe, complementary but different from optical, radio, and other conventional telescopes. With gravitational wave detections, we expect to learn more about black holes, neutron stars, supernova, the origins of the universe, and other high energy astronomical events. Unfortunately, the effect of gravitational waves on the LIGO detectors is very small, and noise from other phenomenon can easily overwhelm the gravitational signal. This grant supports work to better understand and reduce coating thermal noise, a critical noise source that limits our ability to detect gravitational waves. The related education and outreach project is to pass on the excitement about optics we develop working on LIGO to high school students through a fun and educational competition, the Optics Olympiad. In addition to individuals and teams competing on knowledge and understanding of optics, there will be panel discussions, a guest lecturer, and tours of science laboratories at American University.

Project: Measuring Charging Effects on LIGO Optics

Abstract:  This award supports a research program to measure charge buildup and correlation time in vacuum for LIGO-like optics, as well as a variety of materials, coatings preparations, and environmental factors. The method to be used for measuring surface charge is a Kelvin probe, which creates a capacitance between probe and sample and then modulates this capacitance to generate an AC signal proportional to the sample charge level. The work will be performed at Trinity University by the PI and an undergraduate. The proposed research is of urgent importance to Initial LIGO and any enhancements following the current science run, due to the recent observation of a disappearing noise source in the 40-100 Hz frequency band at the LIGO Livingston Observatory which may be connected to the discharging of an optic. The research is also necessary for Advanced LIGO and third generation interferometers in order to reduce noise in their most sensitive frequency range.

Department of Homeland Security:

Dr. Kurt Braddock - $568,613 (anti-terrorism research)

Project: Preventing Domestic Terrorism

Description: The School of Communication at American University will define and describe the growing threat of violent white supremacist extremist disinformation, evaluate attitudinal inoculation as a strategy for communication to combat the threat, and develop a suite of operational tools for use by practitioners and stakeholders. With commitment and support from Google Jigsaw, American University will develop evidence-based methods for undermining the persuasive appeal of disinformation-based messaging and facilitate on- and offline inoculation campaigns.

National Endowment for the Humanities:

Dr. Braxton Boren - $50,000 (reconstruction Bach's acoustics)

Project: Hearing Bach's Music As Bach Heard It

Description: The recreation of acoustic conditions of the Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church) in Leipzig, where J.S. Bach worked as a concert master, to better understand the relationship between the acoustic clarity of the physical space and Bach’s compositions.

Energetics Technology Center (ETC)

Dr. Zois Boukouvalas - $200,000 (energetic material research)

Project: Data-Driven Multi-modal Fusion for the Analysis of Energetic Material Systems 

Description: In this project, we propose to use advanced Machine Learning techniques and data from multiple sources, and of different nature, i.e. multi-modal, to design, prototype, and evaluate an end-to-end system for the synthesis, analysis, and handling of energetic materials. The aim of this project is to bring together a multi-disciplinary team of faculty, subject matter experts, and students-with expertise in the areas of data science, machine learning, physics, and chemistry-to assist ETC in support of rigorous verification and validation of the results that have been obtained thus far from previous effort. These efforts are based on work that ETC, American University, and University of Maryland has conducted over the past three years in a task called “Machine Discovery and Invention”.