Brains Beat Brawn in this Game: USA Science & Engineering Festival

Achievement date: 

The Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE), an ERC headquartered at the University of Washington, was selected by the National Science Foundation to take part in the U.S.A. Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. in April 2014. Nearly 340,000 attended the festival over the course of three days.

Eight graduate students from San Diego State University and the University of Washington represented the CSNE. The team provided two educational demos: WrestleBrainia 3000, a popular virtual arm-wrestling device that is activated using muscle sensors; and vHAB, a virtual reality game created to help stroke patients with physical therapy. vHAB was created within the last few months through the CSNE’s Tech Sandbox Competition course. It has been featured in local and national media.


The CSNE team estimates that at least 2,000 people tried their hand at vHAB over the weekend. More than 3,000 took part in a WrestleBrainia match.

A wide range of people visited the booth and talked with CSNE student researchers. A woman who had had a stroke but has since recovered said she was “so excited” that the CSNE students had created the vHAB games for stroke patients. She said this type of rehabilitation would have helped her get back to work faster. It was the first time many people, including college students, had seen the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset used with vHAB. Thanks to vHAB, people visiting the booth could see the power of virtual reality and similar technologies outside of playing a video game.

Major media, including The Washington Post, Scientific American, Science and The Wall Street Journal, carried news of the event. (based in Ontario, Canada) interviewed Dev Sarma, a graduate student from the CSNE.

On an internal level, taking part in the festival was very helpful for the CSNE. Graduate students from two institutions had a chance to bond and learn more about each other’s research over the course of several days. They discussed creating an alumni program or committee to increase retention of students at San Diego State (the students are enrolled in Master’s level programs and typically move on within three years). This type of program could also be useful for all partners involved in the CSNE.


The U.S.A. Science & Engineering Festival is a national grassroots effort to advance STEM education and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. Exhibitors, performers, speakers, partners, sponsors, and advisors are among the top minds and organizations in science and engineering in the United States. This includes major academic centers and leading research institutes, government agencies, high tech companies, museums, and community organizations.