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Research Statement

My research interests lie at the intersection of STEM education, immersive technologies (VR/AR/MR, collectively known as XR), and cognitive science. I am interested in how humans interact with these new media and how we might leverage their revolutionary affordances to enhance STEM learning.


A current project I am involved with is MAGNA-AR (, a mobile application that uses phone sensors to obtain and visualize magnetic field data. We hypothesize that the embodiment and agency involved with data acquisition as well as the 3 dimensional nature of the data (as opposed to the traditional 2D compass physics labs) will allow users to learn the nature and mechanics of magnetic fields more fluently - a concept that is widely used in a variety of different, high demand fields.


I am also involved with the Embodied Games Lab ( where we design and assess learning games. We are beginning to design virtual reality games, which afford a user with gestures and higher immersion than desktop based games. These affordances are suggested to increase learning, especially of spatial and procedural concepts and tasks. 

These questions are important because it addresses problems in our society. These technologies are becoming increasingly affordable and accessible - in the case of MAGNA-AR, it comes built into the phones that we have come to bring with us every day, all the time, and in the case of virtual reality, modern standalone headsets are approaching a scalable price point. If these technologies are just as or more effective than physical labs, then higher quality education may become available for a fraction of the cost. This in turn will increase the availability of talented and educated individuals for in-demand STEM jobs.

The Value of an Advanced Degree

My field of endeavor is in immersive technology for geoscience education. This essay is about the larger societal value associated with getting an advanced degree in this field, something I believe to exist in troves!


First, I would like to talk about the skills that I am honing in my graduate program. Chief among them is the methods of research. I am learning to answer human-based research questions by collecting quantitative and/or data and doing analyses. The knowledge of logistics and experimental design of qualitative methods is valuable by itself - it is reminiscent of focus group testing, which has applications in virtually any industry through marketing. [1] One industry to consider in particular is the gaming industry. My research with immersive technologies - which is all about how users interact with media, and how outcomes compare to other technologies - will prepare me for a position within user experience research in gaming, a job that is in-demand. [2] As of 2020, the gaming industry is worth over 60 billion dollars in the United States [3], so it is safe to say that these skills could have an impact on a large population. 

It's also easy to see why solid quantitative analysis skills would have an impact on society as well. The modern world is driven by data. In 2019, LinkedIn ranked "Data Scientist" as the #1 most promising job based on job openings. [4] There are various statistical packages that are used to crunch numbers in education research. Among them are SPSS, SAS, and R Studio, which are all used in data science. [5] Data science seeks to find patterns within data to inform decisions, possibly at a societal level. Just as data is prevalent across all facets of the digital age, so the skills of analyzing it is needed across them. Simply by the nature of the research methods, my degree could prepare me for a pivot into industries like finance, healthcare, or energy. [6]

While the research methods alone are a valuable to skill to a variety of industries, I would also like to talk about the domain in which I research - virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (VR-AR-MR), collectively known as extended reality (XR). It is a mix of new technologies that is recently becoming more mainstream in the consumer space, but more notably exists in a continually more established form in the enterprise space. The biggest technology companies of today are investing in XR, including Microsoft, Google, and Facebook. [7] Especially during the pandemic we are living through, these technologies are being given a jumpstart and have the capability to disrupt many industries. The automotive industry has already begun to use virtual reality to streamline and optimize their design pipelines. [8] VR is being used for "previsualization," which is an idea in film/photography where a scene is wireframed or mapped out before shooting - a recent notable example is the company Industrial Light & Magic using VR in producing The Lion King (2019) and The Mandalorian. [9]. There are just two examples, but there are dozens more that are starting to become privy to the affordances and benefits of virtual and augmented reality. [9][10] The nature of my degree results in having a high level of knowledge about the design principles of XR games/experiences, the cognitive effects of the media, and hands-on development in relevant software (like the Unity Game Engine). These skills make me a potential candidate for positions within the industries and reasons mentioned here.


I am still at the beginning of my Master's program. There is a path forward for me to do a PhD and stay in academia. But it is also clear to me that possibilities to use my skills to benefit society exist beyond the professoriate. 

                                                                                                                                -Don Balanzat, 2020


1. SurveyPolice, Written by. “How Focus Groups Impacted These 5 Major Companies.” SurveyPolice Blog, 14 Sept. 2014,

2. Mirza-Babaei, Pejma. “UX Research for the Gaming Industry Requires Looking through a Unique Lens.” User Experience Magazine, 2018,

3. Gough, Christina. “Video Game Industry - Statistics & Facts.” Statista, 26 Oct. 2020,

4. Jeffrey D. Camm, Melissa R. Bowers. “The Recession's Impact on Analytics and Data Science.” MIT Sloan Management Review, 16 June 2020,

5. Muenchen, Robert A. “The Popularity of Data Science Software.” r4stats.Com, 22 Nov. 2020,

6. Sandra Durcevic, Sandra. “Data Science Applications In Various Industries.” Data Science Central, 16 Aug. 2019,

7. Reeth, Mark. “8 Virtual Reality Stocks to Watch in 2020.” U.S. News & World Report, 4 May 2020,

8. “Jaguar Land Rover's Virtual Cave.” Automotive Council UK, 9 Nov. 2010,

9. Thompson, Sophie. “VR Applications: 21 Industries Already Using Virtual Reality.” VirtualSpeech, VirtualSpeech, 12 Mar. 2019,

10. McDevitt, Delaney. “Want a Career in AR/VR? 10 Industries to Consider.” PTC, PTC, 7 Oct. 2020,

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