Research

My work in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) is focused on several research threads: 1) the design of motivating and rewarding applications (through gamification); 2) (scientific) knowledge and resource management and sharing; 3) communicating safety and risk assessements of Internet of Things (IoT) devices; and 4) designing physical, interactive, and connected prototypes. I am experienced in applying qualitative methods for mapping practices and needs of users, designing prototypes, implementing production tools, and conducting mixed-method evaluations. Before I became an HCI researcher, I developed and evaluated software frameworks for controlling and testing custom-designed hardware chips. On this page, I provide an overview of selected research threads and pointers to corresponding work.
Gamification: motivating and rewarding applications

Gamification refers to the use of game elements to motivate and reward activities in non-game contexts. Points, badges, and leaderboards are some of the most often used game elements. Typical applications that many people are familiar with include sports apps ("Congratulations, this was your longest bike ride ever!") and forums ("Your answers were rated helpful by 20 people"). Gamification has also proven to motivate workers and make repetitive tasks more enjoyable. However, merely adding game elements to drive business goals risks to alienate users. Gamification design needs to be based on an in-depth knowledge of system users, the application context, and the overall socio-technical framework in which gamified systems are deployed.

I studied how gamification can be used to motivate documentation and sharing in science. This is important because research documentation and sharing are usually perceived as unrewarding activities. At the time, we knew very little of design requirements for gamification in the scientific workplace. We hypothesized that scientists, who are trained in critical thinking, would be particularly alienated by any system that made us of meaningless game design elements. Thus, we first conducted a variety of user-centered research activities with scientists in particle physics to map their expectations and socio-technical frameworks. We documented target behaviors that our gamified research data management system should support, and designed two gamified service prototypes that made use of different game design elements and design strategies. We reported our various design activities and findings in the following paper:

Feger, Sebastian S., Sünje Dallmeier-Tiessen, Paweł W. Woźniak, and Albrecht Schmidt. "Gamification in Science: A Study of Requirements in the Context of Reproducible Research." In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 1-14. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300690

Knowledge and resource management and sharing

During my doctoral research, I studied knowledge and resource management for three years at CERN, a key research laboratory in particle physics. The goal of my studies was to understand how researchers can be supported and motivated to document, preserve, and share their data analyses in a structured way that makes their research accessible and reusable. This is a highly important topic that is closely related to the notion of openness and reproducibility in science. Facilitating science reproducibility through the design of suitable cyberinfrastructure is important, as scientists are often not able to validate and reuse published work. In fact, it is a common understanding that science, across all research fields, faces a reproducibility crisis. A core issue lies in the effort required to conduct reproducible research. Documenting and sharing reusable resources is often perceived as unrewarding, because the traditional academic reputation economy focuses on novel contributions.

CERN in particular, and particle physics in general, are great places to start understanding how interactive tools can support and motivate open and reproducible research. They represent one of the most data-intensive branches of science that deals with unique data management challenges. In this environment, I studied how data analysts exchange and reuse information, how and why they contribute to shared data management platforms, and what role research data management tools play in the analysis and sharing process. We mapped practices and needs in this data-intensive environment that we believe will become increasingly relevant to the industry and across the sciences, as they continue to face a growing amount of data.

In our research, we found that knowledge and resource management tools that are closely tailored to a specific environment, field of science, institute, or experiment not only lower the effort required to make analyses reusable. They can even provide unique and meaningful rewards and incentives. We referred to secondary usage forms of tailored data management tools. Those are uses that, while not central to the core mission of the tools, provide meaningful benefits to contributors. At CERN, we mapped secondary usage forms related to uncertainty coping, simulation of useful collaboration, and the use of structured and automated workflows. The following paper provides a good starting point to read about our work on communication practices in particle physics and the design of secondary usage forms:

Feger, Sebastian S., Sünje Dallmeier-Tiessen, Albrecht Schmidt, and Paweł W. Woźniak. "Designing for Reproducibility: A Qualitative Study of Challenges and Opportunities in High Energy Physics." In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 1-14. 2019. https://doi.org/10.1145/3290605.3300685

Feger, Sebastian S., Paweł W. Wozniak, Lars Lischke, and Albrecht Schmidt. "'Yes, I comply!' Motivations and Practices around Research Data Management and Reuse across Scientific Fields." Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction 4, no. CSCW2 (2020): 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1145/3415212

Hardware chip controlling and testing

I have been invested in electronics, PCB design, and microcontroller programming for a long time. My first position after receiving my Master's degree was as a two-year fellow in an electronics group at CERN. My team developed an integrated circuit (ASIC) designed to manage the data exchange with the CERN detectors that are installed in underground facilities and exposed to high levels of radiation. The chip, called GBTx, is a complex device which is configured through more than 300 8-bit registers. One of my priorities was to design a user interface that allows chip users and testers to control the GBTx efficiently and effectively, despite its complexity. I designed and evaluated user interfaces with particular regards to their usability and ability to visualize and communicate the internal state of the chip.

Testing of a radiation-hard chip like the GBTx requires specialized radiation facilities. Those are rare and expensive. We travelled a few times to a facility in Belgium, where we had a couple of hours of radiation beam time to test the chip. Given those constraints, the control and testing software needed to be able to analyze and communicate test runs and results immediately, in order to allow for on-the-spot changes to the test flow. Overall, I developed a complete software framework for controlling and testing the GBTx chip. The framework further included a web service available to GBTx customers to configure the chip for their purposes. The web service differed from the control and test software, as it only made a subset of configuration registers available to the clients. Those were described in great detail in order to support non-experts with the chip configuration.

In the following, I added references to the GBTx test setup and the software framework that I developed.

Leitao, P., S. Feger, D. Porret, S. Baron, K. Wyllie, M. Barros Marin, D. Figueiredo et al. "Test bench development for the radiation Hard GBTX ASIC." Journal of Instrumentation 10, no. 01 (2015): C01038. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-0221/10/01/C01038

Feger, S., S. Baron, M. Barros Marin, P. Leitao, P. Moreira, D. Porret, and K. Wyllie. "A software package for the full GBTX lifecycle." Journal of Instrumentation 10, no. 03 (2015): C03035. https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-0221/10/03/C03035