The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) offers a 10-week summer research program for undergraduates in interactive virtual experiences. A multidisciplinary research institute affiliated with the University of Southern California, the ICT was established in 1999 to combine leading academic researchers in computing with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry. Having grown to encompass over 130 faculty, staff, and students in a diverse array of fields, the ICT represents a unique interdisciplinary community brought together with a core unifying mission: advancing the state-of-the-art for creating virtual experiences so compelling that people will react as if they were real.

Reflecting the interdisciplinary nature of ICT research, we welcome applications from students in computer science, as well as many other fields, such as psychology, art/animation, interactive media, linguistics, and communications. Undergraduates will join a team of students, research staff, and faculty in one of several labs focusing on different aspects of interactive virtual experiences. In addition to participating in seminars and social events, students will also prepare a final written report and present their projects to the rest of the institute at the end of the summer.

This Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The site is expected to continue summer 2016, pending final award issuance.

For questions or additional information, please contact

Research Projects

When you apply, we will ask you to rank your top three interests from the research projects listed below. We encourage applicants to explore each mentor’s website to learn more about the individual research activities of each lab.

Full-Body Interaction in Virtual Reality

Mentor: Evan Suma
The ICT MxR Lab is investigating novel techniques that enable natural movement and full-body interaction in virtual reality. An REU student working will be able to define their own research project addressing the following possible areas: (1) techniques for walking through infinitely large virtual worlds in limited physical spaces, also known as redirected walking; (2) methods for rapidly creating lifelike animated 3D models of real people (avatars) for use in multi-user virtual reality applications; or (3) studies that investigate the impact of virtual avatars on user perception and behavior.

Context Dependent Memory in Virtual Reality

Mentor: David Krum
The ICT MxR Lab researches and develops the techniques and technologies needed for immersive virtual reality and mixed reality experiences. In 2012, the lab developed the FOV2GO, a low-cost smartphone-based virtual reality display that presaged the development of Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, and other new VR displays. The lab is currently researching how virtual reality contributes to learning and training. With the guidance of the principal investigator, an REU student working on this project will modify an existing virtual reality application, written in Unity and C#, and conduct experiments to explore how virtual environments impact context dependent memory. Context dependent memory refers to how recall of information can be enhanced when the study environment is the same as the test environment.

Data-Driven Interactive Narrative Engine (DINE)

Mentor: Andrew Gordon
We are seeking a bright and creative undergraduate student to work with the scientists and students in the ICT Narrative Group. This summer we will be exploring the integration of narrative language models into text-based interactive fiction, with applications in entertainment and training. An REU student working on this project would develop novel interactive fiction prototypes, and conduct empirical usability evaluations with novice authors and players.

Behavior Analytics and Machine Learning

Mentor: Stefan Scherer
Our research aims to automatically characterize and analyze individuals’ nonverbal behavior in human communication, including facial expressions, prosody, and gestures. To this end we utilize machine learning and signal processing techniques. Overall, this vibrant research integrates the fields of psychology, machine learning, and pattern recognition, and emerges as an essential field of computer science and big data analytics. An REU student working on this project would help develop and evaluate novel machine learning approaches to analyze human behavior in one of ICT’s many virtual human interaction applications.

Automultiscopic Virtual Human

Mentor: Andrew Jones
The goal of this project is to optimize virtual human characters for 3D automultiscopic displays that can be viewed from any viewpoint without special glasses. An REU student will work to optimize hardware (projectors, splitters, graphics cards) for in-sync video display, and may help to integrate natural language processing with API and 3D video playback.

Intelligent Virtual Tutor in One-on-One and Team Settings

Mentor: Ning Wang
This project aims to research how to design an intelligent virtual tutor for one-on-one tutoring and for training as a team. In one area of our research, an REU student can design virtual humans to promote productive argumentation in student discussions. The REU student will review literature on attitude related to productive/unproductive argumentation, and design a virtual human to study how a peer’s attitude in argumentation impacts the student’s adaptation of argumentation attitude and learning outcomes. In another area of our research, an REU student can study how to design virtual intelligent tutors for students who train as a team. The REU student will review literature on team training and use ICT’s multiagent social simulation framework, PsychSim, to design a team of simulated students and a virtual tutor. The design of the simulated team can be data-driven (e.g., mining existing student data) and/or literature-driven. The REU student will explore how the tutorial strategies employed by the simulated virtual tutor impact the training within a team of virtual students.

Natural Language Dialogue Processing for Virtual Humans

Mentor: David Traum
ICT is developing artificial intelligence and natural language processing technology to allow virtual humans to engage in spoken and face to face interactions with people for a variety of purposes, including training of conversational tasks with virtual role-players. An REU student will work on extending or evaluating virtual humans in one or more activities. One example project is Information extraction. The purpose of this project is to allow a virtual character to “read” information from an internet source (e.g. webpage or newsfeed) and be able to talk about it in natural language with people. The information could come from structured information APIs (semantic web) or textual sources (or a combination). This information will be related to an ontology and knowledge base to allow the character to engage in social chat with people about this information. Topics could include elements like the weather, sports, current events, etc. An REU student will work with project members to identify a set of topics, internet resources for information on those topics, and methods that people talk about the topics (from corpora of human dialogue). The student will then write or adapt web-scrapers to acquire information from the identified resources, and add to the character’s knowledge base, understanding and language generation abilities.

Computational and Corpus Linguistics

Mentor: Ron Artstein
ICT is developing language technologies for conversations with computer agents and robots, and has collected large spoken corpora of such interactions. An REU intern will work on developing these technologies, analyzing existing corpora, or collecting new data. Example projects include adapting a conversational agent or robot to speaking a new language; extending current technology to allow an agent or robot to understand the context of a conversation; or identifying interaction patterns in interaction corpora. Past intern projects in our group have typically resulted in conference publications.

Location and Housing

The ICT facility is located in the Playa Vista community of West Los Angeles, about 10 miles west of the main USC campus, and includes a 150-seat theater, game room, and gym. There are numerous restaurants and stores within walking distance, including the Westfield Culver City mall, and the beach is only a 10 minute drive away. The university also provides free shuttle service between the institute and the downtown USC campus.

Since ICT is located in its own separate facility, summer students typically live in apartments near the institute rather than on-campus dorms. We will direct accepted students to a number of resources for locating nearby housing and provide a stipend to support the cost of living.


  • Participate in a unique multidisciplinary community that combines academic research with the creative talents of Hollywood and the video game industry.
  • Work with some of the leading researchers in human-computer interaction, virtual reality, computer graphics, and virtual humans.
  • Receive a total of $5000 over the ten week program.
  • Receive an additional $3450 stipend for housing and living expenses.
  • Travel will be reimbursed up to $600 for students living 95 miles or more outside of the Los Angeles area.

Please note that the dollar amounts quoted above are estimates, subject to change pending final award issuance from NSF.


  • U.S. citizenship or permanent residency is required.
  • Students must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate program.
  • Students must not have completed an undergraduate degree prior to the summer program.

Important Dates

  • Application deadline: March 4, 2016
  • Notification of acceptance begins: March 16, 2016
  • Notification of declined applicants: April 2016
  • Start Date: May 31, 2016
  • End Date: August 5, 2016

How to Apply

Step 1: Application Form

Fill out the online application.  You must first complete this form before the rest of your application materials will be reviewed.

Step 2: Submit Additional Materials

Email the following materials to

  • The most recent unofficial transcripts from all undergraduate institutions you have attended.
  • A one page personal statement. This may include your research interests and how you came to be interested in them, your previous research experiences, your reasons for wanting to participate in the research at the ICT, and how this participating in this experience might better prepare you to meet your future goals.

Step 3: Recommendation Letter

Request a faculty member to email a letter of recommendation directly to

Please note that due to the large number of responses, it is not possible to confirm the receipt of individual letters.  Applicants are encouraged to check with their recommender directly to confirm that the letter has been submitted.