Mechanical Engineer researches haptics to improve medical procedure simulators and flight training Meet Elyse Chase

In high school, Elyse Chase had a passion for math and physics, but also enjoyed art’s ability to show her perspective through the creation of new things. While touring colleges, she discovered a way to combine the two when she saw a machine shop on campus. That discovery led her to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering and applied mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. However, deciding what field of research she wanted to pursue didn’t come to her as easily. It wasn’t until she took an engineering dynamics class with a professor who was researching haptics, our sense of touch, that led her to her first engineering research project.

Mechanical Engineer researches haptics to improve medical procedure simulators and flight training

Elyse Chase, Ph.D, is an Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Fellow (IC Postdoc) with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI). She is part of the Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab (MAHI) at Rice University looking further into haptics and the noncongruent information of multisensory integration. (Photo Credit: Diane Chase)

“I was able to build and develop new devices that provide varying directional feedback to the index finger as well as softness,” Chase said. “We then tested and integrated my work with a DaVinci surgical system, with the future purpose of helping surgeons palpate for tumors during minimally invasive surgery.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Chase went to Stanford University to complete her master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering. Before completing her doctoral degree, her dissertation supervisor recommended Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education’s (ORISE) Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship (IC Postdoc Program).

“I applied because the specific call, enabling components of human augmentation, seemed like an excellent fit for the work that I do, and I was excited by the prospect of bringing my funding to a postdoc position, as this enables me to have more freedom and choice in the research that I pursue,” she said.

The IC Postdoc Program offers scientists and engineers from a wide variety of disciplines unique opportunities to conduct research relevant to the Intelligence Community.

Now, Chase is at Rice University in the Mechatronics and Haptic Interfaces Lab (MAHI) which is led by Marcia O’Malley, Ph.D., alongside other postdoctoral, doctoral, master’s and undergraduate students. Her current research proposal is looking further into the noncongruent information of multisensory integration, for example, when the visual conditions do not align with the additional sensory information provided. To study this, Chase and her team are assessing perceptual illusions in virtual reality (VR) which include size-weight illusion and temperature-weight illusion.

“We first want to demonstrate that this illusion holds when the haptic information is referred to the wrist. We are using a custom wrist-band device, Tasbi, which provides vibration at six points and a general squeeze force equally distributed around the wrist,” she said. “To do so, we are placing individuals in a virtual environment and running a psychophysical study.”

Later in their research, they will investigate how the referred haptic information at the wrist can be combined with other sensory information. With all the combined data, Chase aims to create a generative model that can take in information given to a human within a virtual environment and then predict how people integrate multisensory information.

“This work will enable a more fundamental understanding of how haptic feedback empowers people to learn and better perform critical real-world tasks in virtual environments, such as simulators for medical procedures and flight training,” Chase said.

A typical day at the MAHI lab for Chase includes reviewing any relevant literature early before others arrive. Depending on what stage of research she is in, Chase moves on to designing the study, creating it in Unity, working with participants or data analysis. In any downtime, she will meet with graduate students to help advise and work on their related projects.

“This experience has supported my research ideas and allowed me to work with outstanding scientists, like O’Malley, Ph.D., and learn from them,” Chase said. “My favorite part of the program is having the freedom to explore my own research questions in the postdoc.”

After the completion of the program, Chase plans to apply for faculty positions at research-focused institutions. In the meantime, Chase continues to contribute to scientific journals like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) on Transactions on Haptics (ToH) and plans to attend the Haptics Symposium and Euro Haptics as well as the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference.

The Intelligence Community Postdoctoral Research Fellowship Program is funded by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and managed by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) under an agreement between the IC and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.