NYU-Poly’s Katherine Isbister Awarded Humboldt Research Fellowship

Research Probes How to Redesign Computer and Smartphones to Help Users Feel Good and Work Smarter

Katherine Isbister, research director of the new Game Innovation Lab at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), has been recognized by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation with its prestigious Humboldt Research Fellowship. The fellowship offers experienced researchers the opportunity to spend up to 18 months abroad conducting collaborative research with educational institutions in Germany. Isbister will conduct her fellowship at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Isbister’s work merges computer and social sciences, with a focus on the development of new multi-touch computer interfaces for applications ranging from smartphone and tablet screens to large displays. In addition to heading the NYU-Poly Game Innovation Lab, she serves as an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Departments of Computer Science and Engineering as well as Digital Media (Humanities and Social Science).

“This is an extraordinary opportunity for Dr. Isbister to team with top researchers in this emerging area of innovation,” said NYU-Poly Provost Elizabeth Dianne Rekow. “Her work stands to transform a ubiquitous aspect of modern life — the daily interaction between humans and computers — and we congratulate Dr. Isbister on this well-deserved recognition.”

Using studies of how physical movements and gestures affect human emotions, Isbister and her colleagues in Berlin aim to design human-computer interfaces that enhance the social and emotional well-being of users. Many of the traditional office configurations — such as a worker sitting hunched over a computer keyboard or the rapid clicking motions of a mouse or smartphone keypad — may actually increase feelings of stress and exhaustion, she said.

As multi-touch devices become widely prevalent and more time is spent interacting with computers, Isbister sees tremendous opportunity for improving the user experience and possibly even productivity.

“There is no reason why everyday tasks like replying to email or searching for computer files cannot be tailored to mimic the gestures that make us feel relaxed and focused, like tai chi or dance,” said Isbister.

Last autumn, another member of NYU-Poly’s Humanities and Social Science Department received a Humboldt Research Fellowship. Myles W. Jackson, the Dibner Family Professor of the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology and a professor of the history of science at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, will conduct his research at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Mathematics in Kaiserslautern, Germany, this summer.

Candidates for the Humboldt Fellowship are selected based on academic record, including criteria such as publications in internationally-reviewed journals, expert references and the academic quality and feasibility of the research proposal.

Isbister will begin her fellowship in summer 2011.

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About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 157-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi.