SILC Showcase

Showcase October 2012: Two Spatial Cognition Conferences and SILC Participation

Share this article using our url:

Two Spatial Cognition Conferences and SILC Participation

David Miller, Northwestern University and Steven Weisberg, Temple University

Spatial cognition researchers from across the world flocked to Europe this September for two international conferences: Spatial Cognition (Bavaria, Germany) and International Conference on Spatial Cognition (Rome, Italy). The former which occurs bi-annually and the latter which occurs tri-annually overlap once every six years and provide complementary venues for the presentation of spatial research. SILC was well represented at these conferences, which together included 26 presentations of SILC-affiliated research. Attendees found the conferences to be exciting opportunities for forming international collaborations and learning about the latest spatial cognition research.

Spatial Cognition 2012, Bavaria, Germany

If we don’t include spatial ability into models of psychological diversity, we will never come to a full understanding of human consciousness.
–David Lubinski, Professor at Vanderbilt University, Keynote Address at the 2012 Spatial Cognition Conference in Bavaria, Germany

With the above powerful quote, David Lubinksi concludes his fascinating talk about the unique role of spatial thinking in learning, work, and creativity. His talk was one of three keynote addresses at the intimate and lively 2012 Spatial Cognition conference in Bavaria, Germany, co-chaired by SILC professor David Uttal. Reflecting the conference’s intellectual diversity, other keynote speakers were Bastian Leibe presenting about robots that can understand dynamic visual scenes and J. Kevin O’Regen presenting about computational models of detecting spatial features of environments.

keynote addresses, 2012 Spatial Cognition Conference

A distinguishing feature of the conference was the ample time given to networking and socializing. All participants stayed and ate together in a converted monastery in the secluded town Seeon, Germany. Conference registration included catered meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) of authentic, delicious Bavarian food such as Weisswurst (white sausage) and Frikadeller (meat dumplings). These meals and extended coffee breaks allowed all participants to connect with each other including early graduate students with top distinguished spatial cognition researchers. For instance, lunch breaks were an hour and a half long and coffee breaks were half-hour long, with no other events scheduled at those times.

Figure 2-Spatial Cognition Conference 2012

The conference was intimate with ~100 participants, 43 presentations, 11 posters, and 5 workshops. Presentations were single-track, meaning that everyone attended the same talks that provided a common ground among all participants. The poster session was two hours long allowing for rich, extended discussions. Participants’ backgrounds were extremely diverse including expertise in computational modeling, education, linguistics, psychology, and robotics to name just a few fields!

Both beginning and experienced researchers gained methodological training at the pre-conference workshops. Participants learned from each other on topics such as how to use virtual reality environments or linguistic data to advance spatial cognition research. SILC professor Ken Forbus organized a half-day workshop on how the SILC-developed CogSketch tool can help gather rich, interesting sketching data.

Researchers at Spatial Cognition Conference 2012

The conference and attendees were extremely welcoming towards graduate students. For instance, doctoral researchers presented and discussed with each other in a special doctoral colloquium event. This colloquium, chaired by SILC professor David Uttal, occurred over two mornings and featured the research of ten doctoral students. Six out of these ten presenters were SILC-affiliated! Students benefitted from presenting their research and talking with the colloquium’s discussant, SILC advisory board member Marcia Linn.

Some presentations from the doctoral colloquium at Spatial Cognition Conference 2012

The conference ended with a social dinner event at a nearby beer garden restaurant and tour of the monastery. At the end of the monastery tour, the tour guide treated attendees to a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria accompanied by the harpsichord stored inside the monastery’s chapel. In addition to hearing this beautiful music, everyone left the conference with full stomachs and fresh new insights about spatial cognition research.

Tour at Spatial Cognition Conference 2012

International Conference on Spatial Cognition 2012, Rome, Italy

On a rainy Tuesday afternoon in Rome, in the first three hours of the International Conference of Spatial Cognition (ICSC), attendees were treated to a microcosm of the conference to come. First, Dr. Marta Olivetti Belardinelli set the stage for the variety of the research that would be presented by tracing the development of ICSC over the past 12 years. What started, she said, from a small, local meeting of mostly European cognitive researchers has exploded into a cross-disciplinary, international convention. Next, in an hour long, data-infused keynote address, Dr. Alain Berthoz guided the audience through his long career of work on the neuroscience of spatial orientation. Finally, attendees schmoozed and noshed around a crowded foyer, sipping Italian wine and eating porchetta. These themes – interdisciplinarity, detailed discussions of data, and social engagement – discernible in the first three hours, played out over the rest of the conference.


Hosted by the Psychology Department of La Sapienza University of Rome, the 5th ICSC brought together researchers from a wide disciplinary and geographic range. Over five packed days, graduate students, post-docs, and faculty members presented and attended talks related to the conference’s theme of “Space and Embodied Cognition.” The conference, which was double-track except for the keynotes, included 18 organized symposia, 12 oral sessions, 74 poster presenations, and approximately 250 attendees. Geographically, 192 participants came from European universities, 42 were from North America, 9 from Asia, and 3 each from Oceania and South America.

Presenters-Int'l Conference on Spatial Cognition

Dr. Berthoz’s talk was one of 5 keynote presentations which were as diverse as the rest of the conference. Dr. Karl Friston showed how mathematical models could be used to simulate how the perception-action system works to minimize surprise. In a talk that spanned psychology and philosophy, Dr. Michael Spivey presented his definition of embodied cognition as mind-centered, but environment-extended. The final two keynotes were focused on neuroscience at different levels. Dr. Marc Ernst discussed multi-sensory integration in the human brain. Dr. Luciano Fadiga described single-cell recording s from premotor cortex that respond, remarkably, to visual stimuli in peripersonal space.

Keynote Speakers-Int'l Conference on Spatial Cognition

The social centerpiece of the conference was an elegant dinner drawn out, Italian-style, over 5 hours on Thursday evening. Aperitifs and appetizers were the prelude to a sit-down 4-course meal that included Italian classics like prosciutto and canteloupe, risotto, artichokes, and veal. The dinner provided a relaxed contrast to the hectic conference schedule where colleagues chatted over wine about their latest research findings, new directions for the field of spatial cognition, or their indulgences in local Roman sites and culture.

Roman Culture-Int'l Conference on Spatial Cognition

SILC Participation

Across conferences, attendees included 6 professors, 2 postdocs, and 11 graduate students from SILC institutions as well as 5 SILC alumni. Below is a list of these people showing the rich diversity of SILC attendees.

Northwestern University

  • ♦ Professor David Uttal: attended both, was co-author on talks at both, co-chair of Spatial Cognition
  • ♦ Professor Dedre Gentner (SILC Co-PI): presented at ICSC, attended both, was co-author on talks at both
  • ♦ Professor Ken Forbus: presented at both
  • ♦ Postdoc Erin Wilkerson: presented at ICSC, attended both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Lei Yuan: presented at both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Nina Simms: presented at both
  • ♦ Graduate Student David Miller: presented at Spatial Cognition, attended both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Linsey Smith: presented at Spatial Cognition, attended both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Anja Jamrozik: presented at ICSC, attended both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Jon Wetzel: presented and helped organize workshop at Spatial Cognition
  • ♦ Alumnus Andrew Lovett: presented and helped organize workshop at Spatial Cognition

University of Chicago

Temple University

  • ♦ Professor Nora Newcombe (SILC PI): attended both, was co-author on talks at both
  • ♦ Graduate Student Kinnari Atit: attended and was co-author on talk at Spatial Cognition
  • ♦ Graduate Student Steven Weisberg: presented at both
  • ♦ Alumnus Daniele Nardi (now at Sapienza University): presented at ICSC
  • ♦ Alumnus Andrea Frick (now at University of Bern): presented at both
  • ♦ Alumnus Victor Schinazi (now at University of Oregon): presented at both
  • ♦ Alumnus Mark Holden (now at University of Western Ontario): presented at Spatial Cognition
  • ♦ Alumnus Alexandra Twyman (now at University of Western Ontario): presented at Spatial Cognition
You are here: SILC Home Page SILC Showcase Showcase October 2012: Two Spatial Cognition Conferences and SILC Participation