Developing 3-D Spatial Skills: Removing Barriers to Success for Women in STEM

Sheryl Sorby 

Professor, The Ohio State University, Engineering Education



The ability to visualize in three dimensions is a cognitive skill that has been shown to be important for success in engineering and other technological fields. For engineering, the ability to mentally rotate 3-D objects is especially important. Unfortunately, of all the cognitive skills, 3-D rotation abilities exhibit robust gender differences, favoring males. The assessment of 3-D spatial skills and associated gender differences has been a topic of educational research for nearly a century; however, a great deal of the previous work has been aimed at merely identifying differences. Previous studies have found that for students who have weak spatial skills, complex visualizations of scientific data are not meaningful and serve as a source of confusion. For more than two decades, Sheryl Sorby has been conducting research aimed at identifying practical methods for improving 3-D spatial skills, especially for women engineering students. This presentation details the significant findings obtained over the past several years through this research and identifies strategies that appear to be effective in developing 3-D spatial skills and in contributing to student success.


A Defense of Artistic License in Illustrating Scientific Concepts for a Non­-Specialist Audience  

Jen Christiansen

Senior Graphics Editor

Scientific American



Before you can even begin to communicate complex information, you must first engage an audience. If a visualization does not include immediately-visible context, a familiar visual vocabulary, or a welcoming gesture for the non-specialist reader, it may simply confirm a preconception that the content itself is unrelatable—shutting down the opportunity to convey that information to a new audience. Using examples from Scientific American magazine, I'll share strategies for developing graphics that accurately represent research findings for readers already fluent in the topic AND engage readers looking for an accessible entry point to an unfamiliar topic.


The Art of Scientific Visualization

Donna J. Cox

Director of the Advanced Visualization Laboratory (AVL)

National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign



The National Center for Supercomputing Applications' Advanced Visualization Lab (AVL) develops scientific visualizations from supercomputer numerical models. Donna Cox will present a variety of interdisciplinary collaborations between AVL and science teams to create data visualizations that cross the boundaries of art-science and provide stunning examples of an emergent field. AVL develops advanced virtual tools to create visualizations and incorporate into insightful public outreach programs. Cox and her team's unique contribution is the cinematic presentation of science. They have thrilled and informed millions of people with stunning visuals of science data for IMAX movies, feature films, PBS HD television, and large-screen digital museum and full dome shows around the world. Cox will present examples of this work and introduce the afternoon’s hands on demonstrations.