Assistant Professor Yuhang Zhao joins UW-Madison Computer Sciences Department to teach Human-Computer Interaction

Yuhang Zhao headshotYuhang Zhao joins the UW-Madison Computer Sciences Department from Cornell University, where she completed her PhD in Information Science. Zhao studies Human-Computer Interaction, and more specifically is interested in understanding “the diverse abilities that people have, and to design and build intelligent interactive systems to enhance human abilities and promote equity.” At UW-Madison she plans to continue exploring how to create novel technologies to address the challenges that people with disabilities face and to make new technologies accessible to people with disabilities. Zhao is looking forward to ice skating on the lakes, as she did in her hometown in China. 

Hometown: I came from Harbin in China, which is a very beautiful city, especially in winter. It’s quite famous for its Ice and Snow Festival.

Educational/professional background: I got my PhD degree from Cornell University, majoring in Information Science. I spent most of my PhD life at Cornell Tech, which is a new campus of Cornell University in New York City, focusing on technology innovation, business, law, and design. Before joining Cornell, I achieved my B.A. and M.S. degrees in Computer Science in Tsinghua University, China.

How did you get into your field of research? I started my Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research when I was a senior undergraduate student. I had an internship at Microsoft Research Asia, designing and building a virtual pet game based on projection techniques. A user can use a projector to project her virtual pet into her surrounding environment, and the pet behaves and evolves based on her living environment, indicating the user’s current lifestyle. From this small project, I realized the fun and power of designing novel technologies to improve people’s life. Following that, my research interest has always been exploring how computer technologies can be best used to change the life of people with diverse abilities.

Could you please describe your area of focus? My research focuses on human-computer interaction, including accessibility, augmented/ virtual reality (ARVR), mobile interaction, and human-centered AI.

What main issue do you address or problem do you seek to solve in your work? My research aims to deeply understand the diverse abilities that people have, and to design and build intelligent interactive systems to enhance human abilities and promote equity. For example, my PhD research has focused on understanding low vision people’s visual perception and designing augmented reality technologies to enhance their visual abilities in various daily activities. In the future, I will continue exploring how to create novel technologies to address the challenges that people with disabilities face, as well as how to make the emerging technologies (e.g., ARVR, AI) accessible to people with disabilities.

What’s one thing you hope students who take a class with you will come away with? People have diverse abilities. As researchers, designers, and developers, we should always keep diversity and inclusion in mind, and develop universal technologies that are accessible to everyone, for example, people with disabilities, older adults, women, and children.

What attracted you to UW-Madison? UW-Madison is a highly ranked university with a very strong CS department. I’m especially excited about the CDIS institute, which encourages innovations and deepens interdisciplinary collaborations.

What was your first visit to campus like? My first visit was my faculty interview with UW-Madison in mid March. I immediately fell in love with the beautiful lakes and I enjoyed my visit so much. The cheese was absolutely delicious. I also learnt that the weather at Madison is quite similar to my hometown Harbin, where I can skate on the lake in winter!

What are you looking forward to doing or experiencing in Madison? I’m looking forward to building my research lab, collaborating with the amazing researchers at UW-Madison, meeting the lovely students, and enjoying the beautiful lake sceneries.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea? If so, please describe how.  The main goal of my research is to create technologies to propel inclusion and promote equity for people with diverse abilities, which is highly in line with the Wisconsin Idea. During my research, I will conduct outreach to the disability communities and the related government departments, ensuring that my technology will benefit a broad audience in the state.

What is something you’re working on in layperson’s terms, so that non-computer scientists at UW-Madison and the general public can understand what you’re passionate about. People have diverse abilities, but all have an equal right to access the world. However, people with disabilities, who make up 15% of the world population, are marginalized by inaccessible technology and social infrastructure. While the advances in computer technology (e.g., AI and ARVR) present unique opportunities to empower people, inaccessible designed technology can discriminate against people with disabilities, magnifying inequalities and biases. To address this problem, I seek to study the needs of people with diverse abilities, design technologies to enhance human abilities, and foster the accessibility of the emerging technology to promote equity.

Hobbies/other interests: Calligraphy, swimming, skating.