4. Spatial Cognition Symposium


Spacial Cognition Symposium image

Symposium shows the transdisciplinary nature of spatial cognition

By Alexander Klippel

The third “Pennsylvania and Friends Spatial Cognition Symposium” took place in State College, Pennsylvania in May 2016. It was organized by the Penn State Department of Geography in collaboration with the Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) at Temple University and the School of Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

The symposium reflects the transdisciplinary character of spatial cognition; while geography is a spatial discipline, there are areas in disciplines such as psychology, information science, architecture, and others that explicitly address how humans think about, represent, and interact with their spatial environments.

The symposia organized so far have a stable number of 35-plus participants, yet with different disciplinary foci. The 2016 symposium featured a larger number of participants with more substantial travel distances within the US, and also internationally. Presenters and participants came from an eclectic canon of disciplines such as psychology, geography, education, architecture, applied research labs, geoinformatics, industry, information science, and design computing.
One of the defining characteristics of the symposium is the commitment of senior scholars in the associated fields. Either as keynotes or as participants, these scholars join the meeting largely at their own expense allowing young scholars, the focus of the symposium, to benefit from their research in form of keynotes or through the discussion of their research in presentations and through the interaction at different social events.

2016 featured four keynotes. While the details can be found on the website (sites.psu.edu/spatialcognitionsymposium2016/), we briefly name the speakers here to underline the exceptional quality of this meeting: Barbara Landau, distinguished professor from Johns Hopkins University; Thomas Shipley, leading professor in the SILC network at Temple University; Christian Freksa, professor at Bremen University, Germany, and long standing principal investigator of Germany’s Spatial Cognition Network; and Bimal Balakrishnan (’04g, ’08g) professor at the University of Missouri and a Penn State alumnus. Balakrishnan’s participation was of particular interest as the Department of Geography is developing intensive collaborations across campus focusing on 3D modeling and virtual reality.

This year’s symposium was special treat for me; it was the first time that my supervisor, Christian Freksa from the University of Bremen, Germany, my first Ph.D. Student, Rui Li (’12g), an assistant professor at the University of Albany, and Mark Simpson, a current Ph.D. candidate on my team were able to participate. We celebrated with steaks grilled on a Himalayan salt stone and Creamery ice cream.