Dr. Sharad Sharma's Pioneering Research in Data Science, VR, and Emergency Response

Dr. Sharad Sharma
Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Dr. Sharad Sharma, a prominent Information Science Professor and Director of the Data Visualization and Extreme Reality Lab (DVXR) at UNT’s College of Information, is making groundbreaking strides in the fields of Data Science, Virtual Reality (VR), and Emergency Response. With expertise in multi-agent systems, data visualization, and human behavior modeling, Dr. Sharma's research is making a profound impact on the practical applications of advanced technologies.

Dr. Sharma's academic journey is a fusion of excellence in diverse fields. Combining a master's degree in architecture with a Ph.D. in Computer Engineering, he has cultivated a passion for VR/AR/MR/XR technologies. His research has evolved from Software Engineering and Artificial Intelligence to encompass critical areas like Data Science, Data Visualization, and Human-Computer Interaction.

Throughout his distinguished career, Dr. Sharma's contributions have earned him prestigious grants from notable institutions, including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Defense (DoD). Some of his noteworthy research projects include:

•    Homeland Security Expertise for Emergency Evacuation Research: This DHS Scientific Leadership Award explored the use of mobile devices during emergency evacuations and integrate human emotion and behavior in virtual reality evacuation simulations.

•    Visualization, Analysis, and Prediction of COVID-19: This NSF award focused on understanding the reasons behind the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the black community. It involved developing visualization and interaction tools to analyze COVID-19 patient data in immersive environments.

•    Problem-Based Learning Approach to Teach Gaming: This NSF award focused on enhancing game development education with problem-solving activities and gaming instructional modules to improve students' understanding of theoretical concepts.

•    Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory for Research and Education:  The goal of this NSF award was to enhance the course curriculum with more inquiry based problem-solving activities and hand-on experiences based on Virtual and Augmented Reality educational modules and provide undergraduate students with realistic immersive learning environments, preparing them for graduate programs and the workforce.

Currently, Dr. Sharma is actively engaged in four major NSF projects that are poised to drive significant advancements in the field. Two NSF projects involve the development and evaluation of immersive virtual reality instructional modules to optimize emergency response strategies during active shooter events, ultimately saving lives and improving public safety. The project serves as the basis for training workers of the future in the important work context of emergency response.

Dr. Sharma is collaborating on a 13-million-dollar NSF HDR institute: iHARP award that focuses on harnessing data and model revolution in the polar regions. Dr. Sharma leads a sub-project focusing on annotation and visualization of heterogeneous data using AR/VR technologies. This effort seeks to enhance situational awareness and accessibility of science data connected with Arctic science using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies.

Dr. Sharma is also collaborating on Harnessing the Data Revolution (HDR) Data Science Corps (DSC) grant that focuses on creating and integrating Data Science Corps to improve the quality of life in urban areas. The core set of knowledge includes data collection and cleaning, data analysis using machine learning and deep learning techniques, data visualization including geospatial data and virtual reality, data privacy and security, and infrastructure for smart cities including IoT-based sensor networks.

A true advocate of nurturing young talent, Dr. Sharma actively involves undergraduate, master's, and Ph.D. students in the DVXR Lab's impactful research. Through these opportunities, students gain hands-on experience and contribute to nationally significant projects. Dr. Sharma envisions expanding the DVXR Lab to establish a collaborative research center with industry partners. His future research plans include developing AI-driven intelligent agents and VR/AR/XR training modules for evacuation, healthcare, workforce development, and improving the quality of health care.

As an senior member of IEEE and ACM, Dr. Sharma guides his students to stay abreast of the latest advancements through attending conferences, publishing papers, and engaging with professional societies. Networking and collaborations are essential for fostering groundbreaking research and contributing to advancements in the field.

Dr. Sharad Sharma's dedication to merging Data Science and Virtual Reality for emergency response and decision-making showcases the boundless potential of advanced technologies in shaping a safer and more efficient world. Through his research, he continues to make significant contributions to the fields of VR, AR, XR, data visualization, and human behavior modeling, inspiring the next generation of researchers to pursue innovative solutions for real-world challenges.