The Hank Virtual Environments Lab consists of faculty, staff, and students with a wide variety of interests from both the Computer Science Department and the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences.

Jodie M. Plumert, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences

Education: Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1990, Child Psychology; B.A., Kalamazoo College, 1985, Psychology

Research Interests: Jodie Plumert is a Professor of Psychology and a Collegiate Fellow of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa. She co-directs the Hank Virtual Environments Lab with Joe Kearney. Her research interests include cognitive development, perceptual-motor development, and unintentional childhood injuries. She is especially interested in using virtual environment technology to study how youth make gap decisions and time their movement when crossing roads with traffic. Dr. Plumert is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association for Psychological Science (APS). She has served on the executive committee of Division 7 of APA and as an associate editor of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 


Links: Personal webpage

Joseph K. Kearney, Ph.D.

Professor, Computer Science Department, & Associate Dean for Research and Development, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Education: Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1983, Computer Science

Research Interests: Joseph Kearney is a Professor of Computer Science and a Collegiate Fellow of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Iowa. He co-directs the Hank Virtual Environments Lab with Jodie Plumert. His current research focuses on behavior, scene, and scenario modeling for virtual environments. With funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Center for Injury Prevention, he is investigating how virtual environments can be used as laboratories for the study of human behavior. He has also published research in psychophysics, computer vision, modeling of human movement, and computer animation.


Links: Personal webpage

Shiwen (Estelle) Zhou



Shiwen Zhou

Education: B.S., University of Iowa, 2018, Psychology; B.A., University of Iowa, 2018, Communication Studies

Research Interests: I recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Communication Studies. I have had experience in a wide spectrum of research labs and have worked with diverse populations ranging from infants to older adults. As the lab coordinator, I have the opportunity to organize research that investigates how children and adults perceive, act, and think using immersive virtual environments. My long-term goals include continuing on to graduate school for developmental psychology and human-computer interaction. 


Elizabeth O'Neal, Ph.D., MPH

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Education: Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2018, Developmental Psychological and Brain Sciences; MPH, University of Iowa, 2016; B.S., University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2009, Psychology; B.A., Mississippi State University, 2003, Communications

Research Interests: Elizabeth O’Neal is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Science and the National Advanced Driving Simulator at the University of Iowa. Her interests lie at the junction of understanding the role that parent-child safety conversations play in teaching children to independently evaluate novel, dangerous situations and using virtual environments to study this behavior in real time. More recently, she has begun using simulation to evaluating novice teen driver training programs.


Links: /sites/

Morgan Parr

PhD Student, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences


Education: M. A., University of Iowa, 2019, Psychology; B.S., University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2017, Psychology                                                                  

Research Interests: Morgan Parr is a clinical graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Her research interests include using virtual environments to understand the role of motor timing in clinical child populations. She is particularly interested in the role of motor timing in children’s ability to perform day-to-day tasks.                                                                                                            


Links:  /sites/              

Pooya Rahimian

Education: Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2018, Computer ScienceM.S., East Carolina University, Software Engineering

Research Interests: It is very exciting to work in this lab. My research focuses on the technical aspects of VR and evaluating the effects of distractions on pedestrian decision-making.


Lakshmi Subramanian

Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Computer Science


Education: B.E., Kongu Engineering College, Affiliated to Anna University, 2007, Computer Science; M.E., PSG College of Technology, Affiliated to Anna University, 2014, Virtual Prototyping and Digital Manufacturing                                                                    

Research Interests: My research interests are in virtual reality and applying it for simulation of driving assistance systems. I am also interested in leveraging virtual reality technologies for studying human behaviors.                                                                                         


Soumyajit Chakraborty

MCS Candidate, Department of Computer Science


Education: B.Tech in Computer Science from Narula Institute of Technology, affiliated to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, West Bengal, India

Research Interests: My interest is to build games and apps for virtual reality. I am very excited to do work in the Hank lab because right now I am able to play with virtual reality. I will do PhD in virtual reality under the supervision of Prof. Joe Kearney.



Megan G. Lorenz


Education: Ph.D., University of Iowa, 2019, Developmental Psychology; M.A., University of Iowa, 2016, Psychology; B.A., University of California, Los Angeles, 2011, Psychology

Research Interests: Megan is a 7th year doctoral student in the lab. She is primarily interested in the intersection between language acquisition and cognitive development. More specifically, her research explores how memory for and communication about location develop in early childhood.


Jessica Flathau


Lab Coordinator


Education: B.S., University of Iowa, 2019, Biology: Neurobiology

Research Interests: I am a recent graduate of The University of Iowa with a B.S. in Biology. My research experience is in virtual reality and child development. In the future, I hope to continue on to graduate school for counseling psychology and would like to research more into the neurology associated with psychological disorders during development.



Hanxi Tang 

Undergraduate Research Assistant


Research Interests: I am a Junior majoring in Biology and minoring in Psychology.  My research interests include studying cognitive and behavioral psychology as well as cell biology. I am fascinated by the interdisciplinary research approach here at Hank Lab. I hope to learn more about computer science and its application in psychological research.


Aldrin Paulo Roman

Undergraduate Research Assistant



Research Interests: I am a third-year Psychology major. My research interests are specifically in Developmental and Clinical Psychology. In the future, I hope to contribute to finding treatments for mental disorders as well to learn more about how a person's childhood and adolescence affects their adulthood.