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May grad and engineering convocation speaker augments learning through extended reality

Portrait of Frank Wencheng Liu

Frank Wencheng Liu is completing his doctoral degree in computer engineering this May. Photo courtesy of Frank Wencheng Liu

April 25, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Washington in his hometown of Seattle, Frank Wencheng Liu decided to attend the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University for his doctoral degree in computer engineering.

“ASU’s charter resonated with me,” Liu says. “The university's commitment to inclusivity, innovation and societal impact closely aligns with my personal values and aspirations for making meaningful contributions to the world.”

He found the interdisciplinary nature of the Fulton Schools engineering curriculum a surprise, as he worked with people from a variety of backgrounds, including chemists, researchers and artists. The interdisciplinary nature of computer engineering also attracted him to the field due to its blend of software and physical hardware.

Liu chose to focus his doctoral degree research on transcending the boundary between digital and real-world learning environments. He uses haptic virtual reality, or VR, technology to simulate the feel of objects in a user’s hands in a virtual environment. His years of doctoral research resulted in 12 research papers presented at conferences such as User Interface Software and Technology and published in scientific journals like Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive, Mobile, Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

Liu even received a U.S. patent for simulated haptic feedback from fluids in VR environments as part of his research work. He also collaborated with construction equipment manufacturer Komatsu to develop a simulator to virtually train workers using the company’s equipment.

“I've wholeheartedly embraced ASU's interdisciplinary ethos, continuously seeking knowledge across many disciplines,” Liu says. “From the fields of biomedical engineering and psychology to the dynamics of business through master’s degree in business administration courses, I've pursued diverse avenues of learning with unwavering curiosity.”

Outside of his research and education, Liu has been involved in starting and leading organizations within and beyond the university. He worked on the organizing committee for the ASU-hosted 2018 sunhacks hackathon and helped organize the 2019 TEDxASU event to bring inspirational speakers to ASU’s Tempe campus.

Liu also led the founding of VR clubs at two high schools in the Phoenix area, one of which is located in a low socioeconomic status area.

“These VR clubs address the pervasive challenge of insufficient resources in classrooms, particularly in underprivileged schools, by introducing pioneering VR and augmented reality science labs,” he says. “Beyond simply overcoming resource constraints, I am passionately committed to ensuring equitable access to quality education.”

Robert LiKamWa, a Fulton Schools associate professor of electrical engineering with a joint appointment in ASU’s School of Arts, Media and Engineering and Liu’s doctoral thesis advisor, has been particularly impactful on his education. LiKamWa leads the Meteor Studio, an ASU research lab that pushes the limits of VR and AR technology.

Liu says LiKamWa’s support pushed him to fulfill his potential.

“I deeply value Robert’s ability to pinpoint my shortcomings and guide me toward areas of improvement, all while offering thoughtful and insightful feedback,” Liu says. “Under his mentorship, I've grown to be a kinder, more open and better version of myself.”

Liu is currently interviewing for jobs and hopes to stay in Arizona after graduation. In the longer term, he aims to use his engineering skills to improve education for the benefit of society.

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