An early prototype of Christina Bui’s HeartSense

Posted November 11, 2019

Under the guidance of Dr. Nassim Parvin of the Design & Social Interaction Studio, Christina Bui (Digital Media MS 2020) is working on HeartSense, a collaborative biometric experience. The project seeks to apply feminist theory to medical and scientific imaging by bringing the heart out of isolation.

“The canonical cardiograph often depicts the human heart as a separate entity from the rest of our bodies and our environments. While this method of viewing the heart offers great insight to medical professionals regarding our health and wellness, it offers little to us in terms of understanding our own hearts,” Christina says.

The goal of Bui’s research is to create a table which visualizes and situates the heart in collective experiences. In other words, she wants to show how the presence of other people and environmental stimuli affect an individual’s heart rate.

“We chose to set this experience around a table because it’s a great space for socializing. People are facing each other and encouraged to have conversations and share ideas,” Bui continues. “When all of them are surrounding an artifact like HeartSense, there’s no way they can be quiet about it. Previous versions of the project have incited delighted, surprised, and intrigued responses. These are the kinds of interactions that we want to continue encouraging.”

Developing a complex experience like this doesn’t come easy.

“Incorporating collaboration into the project is a challenge,” Bui says.  “In fact, the team and I are trying to figure out how to get all of the sensors to support multiple people without them causing interference with each other.”

Despite that, Bui continues to develop new ideas for what HeartSense could be.

“We’re also working on making this an aesthetic experience. Not only are we looking into different patterns for the LEDs to pulse in, we’re also looking into physical materials such as fabric, paper, and acrylics to cover the lights with to diffuse them. The LEDs are pretty bright on their own and look kind of mechanical so we want to mitigate that.”

In addition to focusing on the physical form of HeartSense, there are other environmental factors that Bui is taking into consideration as well. Namely, music.

“We want to incorporate music into HeartSense because external stimuli affect heart rate as well. It’s an interesting component to explore because we noticed that heart rate sometimes changes in relation to music. When music gets more intense or energetic, the rate of change in heart rates tend to increase. The opposite occurs when music is more mellow.”

There is still much to do in terms of the development and refinement of HeartSense, but Bui is confident that they will be able to have a working prototype by the end of the semester.

In addition to Dr. Nassim Parvin, this research is also a collaboration with Dr. Anne Pollock of King’s College in London and Dr. Lewis Wheaton of Georgia Tech’s Applied Physiology program. The Design & Social Interaction Studio also consists of other talented students and researchers who have also contributed to HeartSense including: Thanawit “Tae” Prasongpongchai, Aditya Anupam, Shubhangi Gupta, Charlie Denton, Alan Lu, Olivia Cox, and Da-In Ryoo

Bui also recently reflected on her summer internship with Brian Magerko in his Expressive Machinery Lab. To learn more about Bui’s work, have a look at her LinkedIn or her portfolio. To learn more about Parvin’s Design & Social Interaction Studio and the other lab’s available to students in the program, visit our research page.

Applications for the Digital Media Graduate Program are accessible here, and information for prospective Master’s students can be found on our applicant page

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