Uttal Wins Research Translation Award

Uttal Wins Research Translation Award

David UttalUttal studies mental representation, cognitive development, spatial cognition and early symbolization.Northwestern University professor David Uttal received the 2022 International Mind, Brain and Education Society’s translation award for his work strengthening the links between spatial intelligence research and practice in both schools and informal contexts such as museums and community centers.

Uttal, a professor of education in the School of Education and Social Policy and a professor of psychology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, runs the Spatial Intelligence & Learning Center at Northwestern where he studies how people interpret and use information about locations to solve problems.

His work on spatial thinking has underscored the importance of geospatial technologies and their role in preparing people for careers. He’s also known for enhancing learning and teaching in STEM subjects.

“Children who do well at spatial tasks such as reading maps and assembling puzzles are more likely to excel in science, technology, engineering. and mathematics (STEM),” Uttal said. “We know it’s important, but few people teach it. We're trying to change that.”

In 2021, Uttal received four grants worth $1.28 million to study new ways to enhance spatial thinking, the process of looking for patterns in the relationships between objects.

All four grants­–three from the National Science Foundation and one from the Institute of Education Sciences– emphasize that spatial thinking is malleable, and that “playful learning” is the best way to teach the skills, Uttal said.

At Northwestern, Uttal teaches Mapping and Spatial Analysis for Social Issues, a course that explores using maps and mapping technologies to address issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and access to fresh food or health care. Students learn to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to create maps to understand and analyze the problems and suggest solutions. 

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 5/25/22