Advancing Spatial Science and the Workforce of Tomorrow

The University of Minnesota became one of the world’s first "spatial universities" at a time when public and private sector interest in spatial thinking and approaches was starting to increase exponentially.

At the heart of the University's spatial capabilities is U-Spatial, which serves and drives a fast-growing need for expertise in geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and spatial computing. U-Spatial is nationally recognized as a leading model for how universities can successfully integrate spatial data, visualization, analysis, and spatial thinking.

Research Highlights

Is it safe to fly to Arizona? What about driving to Chicago? For most of the past year, concerns around the spread COVID-19 have focused on questions like these, aiming to determine the effect of long-distance travel. But what about shorter trips, such as essential workers’ daily commute or a visit to a state park?

A new mobile app could make smartphones one of Minnesota’s best tools for curbing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic—and it could do so without sacrificing people’s privacy.

Lyme disease is easily the most well-known type of tick-borne infection, but there are others that make people sick as well. Recently, a new study from the School of Public Health analyzed the cases of three other serious — but lesser-known — tick-borne diseases in Wisconsin and found that they are increasing, moving, and varying over time.

The phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is common for a reason; it is true that multiple ideas can be conveyed through a single image. That’s why the Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies has started integrating a story mapping technology into its courses.

When people travel, they may be happy—or not—depending on the mode they use, trip duration, and other factors. A team of U researchers has created an interactive map that illustrates differences in travelers’ happiness ratings.

Pick up any newspaper in the region and it is clear that changing water levels, algal blooms, the intensification of storms, and other climate-driven disturbances are increasingly threatening coastal communities around the Great Lakes,” says Ryan Bergstrom, a UMD assistant professor in the College of Liberal Arts' Department of Geography and human-environment geographer.

From flooding to tornadoes to wildfires, natural disasters pose a latent threat to Minnesota. For communities across the state, having a thorough plan in place can mean the difference between large costly impacts and a resilient community.

A map can explore how the homeless interact with transit in the Twin Cities, and how a community can create a transit system that meets the needs of all its citizens.


The SOCRATES satellite was launched by NASA on November 2nd and is currently on the International Space Station waiting for deployment.

First-of-its-kind research from the Accessibility Observatory at the University of Minnesota ranks the 50 largest (by population) metropolitan areas in the United States for connecting workers with jobs via bicycle.

A team of U researchers is leading an effort to develop standards, data sets, and informatics tools to accelerate water resources research and development.

New research from the Global Landscape Initiatives, a project at the Institute of the Environment, details the impact of climate change on the world's top 10 crops.

University of Minnesota researchers have developed a new online tool aimed at showing families’ access to child care and early childhood education services across Minnesota.

Story Maps have the capacity to introduce spatial thinking skills and improve geographic awareness, they are proven to be an excellent teaching tool. To support their use in teaching, a team at the University has created the Story Map Curriculum Portal for educators. The portal contains assignment templates, prompts, a gallery of student work, and lists of helpful resources for instructors and students.

Research Centers

CTS is the hub for transportation research and education at the University of Minnesota. It supports research in many disciplines, cultivates the transportation workforce, and shares new thinking with various stakeholders and audiences.

CURA pursues its urban and regional mission by facilitating and supporting connections between state and local governments, neighborhoods, and nonprofit organizations with relevant resources at the University. CURA delivers timely and innovative research and technical assistance by offering solutions to critical issues.

ISRDI is an interdisciplinary research institute that advances our knowledge of societies and populations across time and space, including economic and demographic behavior, health, well-being, and human-environment interactions. Two of their well known initiatives are IPUMS and Minnesota Population Center.

IonE is a leader in the field of ecological economics and envisions a world in which sustainable agriculture feeds the world; renewable energy powers healthy homes, efficient transportation and flourishing businesses; every person has access to food, water and shelter; oceans, lakes and rivers are clean and healthy; communities have vibrant economies, neighborhoods and cultures; and thriving ecosystems support thriving economies and societies.

The Borchert Map Library serves the University of Minnesota community and the State of Minnesota, including other academic institutions, corporate patrons, and the general public.

The Minnesota Design Center uses design thinking to address systemic issues, helping communities and organizations realize opportunities in their built and natural environments to stimulate economic prosperity, encourage social vitality, and enhance human health and well-being. The center uses Geodesign tools and methods to seek innovative solutions that take advantage of the social, technological, environmental, and economic disruptions of our time.

The Minnesota Supercomputing Institute has the expertise and advanced computing infrastructure to support all research areas. MSI staff provide consulting services for project planning, data analysis, data management, pipeline or application development, tutorials and workshops, and much more.

At the Natural Resources Research Institute over 140 scientists, engineers, and technicians provide research and development tools and data to stakeholders in areas of minerals, metallurgy and mining; forest and land; wood products and bioeconomy; water; renewable energy; and business and entrepreneurial support.

The Polar Geospatial Center, supported by the National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, solves geospatial problems at both poles by working with researchers on mapping and remote sensing projects in Earth’s most remote locations.

The Precision Agriculture Center fosters the implementation of precision agriculture by forging interdisciplinary partnerships. These partnerships aim to advance technology transfer by developing and implementing collaborative research, education, and outreach programs related to precision agriculture.

The Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis Laboratory advances the development and application of remote sensing and geospatial analysis for the purpose of inventorying and monitoring natural resources and the environment.

The Soil and Landscape Analysis Laboratory is a multi-disciplinary facility that supports innovative research activities, teaching and outreach activities, as well as GIS/remote sensing services that focus on spatial analysis of natural resources.

The Spatial Innovation Lab is home to dozens of researchers who focus on developing new data, methods, and theories in spatial science, from complex geovisualization to space-time analytics to global-scale data.

The Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Lab develops and supports a world class, low cost, open-source avionics platform. The lab's infrastructure is used to conduct leading-edge aeronautics research in the areas of navigation, guidance, and flight control systems while also bringing real-world aircraft development and flight testing experiences into coursework.

Authorized by Congress as one of the nation’s 54 water resources research institutes, the Water Resources Center provides leadership in freshwater management through cutting-edge research, educational opportunities for students and professionals, and community outreach.

Clients come to the Carlson Analytics Lab with all kinds of business analytics problems. From engineering new ways to harness the power of data to in-depth analyses, and from machine learning to data-driven optimization, student teams provide analytics solutions.

The Minnesota Geological Survey is a research and service arm of the School of Earth Sciences at the University. It investigates the geology of Minnesota and provides basic public information on the geology of the state. The Survey works with state, county, and regional offices to set up geologic data bases and provide technical guidance for water resource planning, land management and mineral exploration policy, and energy system development.

Data-driven agricultural innovation. Unlocking the promises of Big Data requires a clear vision, a talented and agile cross-disciplinary team, and an agile but long-term commitment to developing the tools and systems required to tackle the real world challenges of turning data into actionable information. This is the challenge G.E.M.S® — an international agroinformatics initiative is tackling head on.

Feeding the growing global population is challenging, especially when there are increasing competitions for land and water to maintain other essential ecosystem services. Our research integrates ecology, computational modeling, remote sensing, and machine learning approaches to advance the science that guides sustainable agricultural management, and to develop tools that can help farmers and regulators apply this science more effectively.

Degree Programs

The Master of Geographic Information Science (MGIS) program is a unique professional masters degree associated with the Department of Geography, Environment & Society—a top-ranked department in the United States with a strong tradition in cartography and GIS. The MGIS program provides a comprehensive GIS degree that balances theoretical, technical, applied and societal dimensions of GIS.

The GIS program at the University of Minnesota Duluth prepares students for careers in the Analysis and Modeling sector of the very large Geospatial Industry. The mission of the GIS Program is to train future GIS professionals by providing theoretical and practical instruction, modeling and mentoring, and real-world professional experiences.

The Data Science M.S. program provides a strong foundation in the science of Big Data and its analysis by gathering in a single program the knowledge, expertise, and educational assets in data collection and management, data analytics, scalable data-driven pattern discovery, and the fundamental concepts behind these methods.

A post-baccalaureate certificate is also offered.

The Carlson School Master's in Business Analytics (MSBA) program teaches students how to extract insights with creative data analysis, and then apply the results in real business settings. Students graduate with a unique combination of data science skills and business acumen to lead in an increasingly data-driven world.

Partner with Us

Questions about collaborating with the U of M?

Contact Len Kne at

More Spatial Research Resources

UMN Map Gallery

2019 UMN Spatial Forum

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