Kenneth D. Forbus

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Northwestern University

forbus [at] northwestern [dot] edu


Other information

SILC Faculty Member and member of our Spatial Network.

Biographical Sketch:

Kenneth D. Forbus

Walter P. Murphy Professor of Computer Science and Professor of Education, Northwestern University



Computer Science

S.B., 1977


Artificial Intelligence

S.M., 1980


Artificial Intelligence

Ph.D., 1984


Positions held: Professor of Computer Science and Education, Northwestern University, 1992-present; Associate Professor of Computer Science and Education, Northwestern University, 1990-1992; Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1989-1990; Assistant Professor of Computer Science, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1984-1989.

Honors: Fellow, Association for Computing Machinery, Cognitive Science Society, American Association for Artificial Intelligence. NSF Presidential Young Investigator Award, 1987.


Five most relevant recent publications:

  1. 1.Jee, B., Gentner, D., Forbus, K., Sageman, B., and Uttal, D. (CogSci09). Drawing on Experience: Use of sketching to evaluate knowledge of spatial scientific concepts.
  2. 2.Wetzel, J. and Forbus, K. (July 2009) Automated Critique of Sketched Mechanisms. Proceedings of IAAI09.
  3. 3.Lovett, A., Tomai, E., Forbus, K. & Usher, J. (2009) Solving Geometric Analogy Problems through Two-Stage Analogical Mapping. Cognitive Science.
  4. 4.Lockwood, K., Lovett, A., and Forbus, K. (2008). Automatic Classification of Containment and Support Spatial Relations in English and Dutch. In Proceedings of Spatial Cognition. Freiberg, Germany.
  5. 5.Forbus, K., Klenk, M., and Hinrichs, T. , 2009. Companion Cognitive Systems: Design Goals and Lessons Learned So Far. IEEE Intelligent Systems, vol. 24, no. 4, pp. 36-46, July/August.

Other significant publications

  1. 1.Forbus, K., Carney, K., Sherin, B. and Ureel, L.VModel: A visual qualitative modeling environment for middle-school students.  Proceedings of the 16th Innovative Applications of Artificial Intelligence Conference, San Jose, July 2004.
  2. 2.Forbus, K.D., Whalley, P., Everett, J., Ureel, L., Brokowski, M., Baher, J. and Kuehne, S. (1999) CyclePad: An articulate virtual laboratory for engineering thermodynamics. Artificial Intelligence. 114, 297-347.
  3. 3.Forbus, K., Gentner, D. and Law, K. 1995. MAC/FAC: A model of Similarity-based Retrieval. Cognitive Science, 19(2), April-June, pp 141-205.
  4. 4.Forbus, K. and de Kleer, J., Building Problem Solvers, MIT Press, 1993.
  5. 5.Falkenhainer, B. and Forbus, K. Compositional Modeling: Finding the Right Model for the Job, Artificial Intelligence, 51, (1-3), October, 1991.

Synergistic Activities

  • As part of DARPA-sponsored research, developed the nuSketch architecture for sketch understanding, which focus on visual and conceptual understanding rather than which-of-N recognition. This led to the first open-domain sketch understanding system (sKEA) and a military sketching system that officers can actually use. This has been the basis for the CogSketch system developed in SILC.
  • With NSF REPP support, explored how middle-school children could learn modeling by starting with qualitative, instead of numerical, models. Resulted in the VModel concept map system, designed in a work circle with Chicago Public School instructors and was successfully used in experiments there. Now available as open-source software (
  • Led the development of CyclePad, an articulate virtual laboratory for design-oriented education in engineering thermodynamics sponsored by NSF. CyclePad is now used in thermodynamics instruction in a number of universities in the US and around the world. See for details.
  • The textbook Building Problem Solvers, with freely available source code, remains in wide use for both classes and as a reference work for researchers.
  • Selected professional service: Editorial Board, Artificial Intelligence; Associate Editor, Cognitive Science; Editorial Board, AAAI Press.
  • Selected honors & Awards: Fellow, American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI). Fellow, Cognitive Science Society.

Collaborators in the last four years: Dave Baxter (Cycorp), Bert Bredeweg (U Amsterdam), Janellen Huttenlocher (U. Chicago), Peter Huttenlocher (U. Chicago), Sven Kuehne (NATO), Nora Newcomb (Temple University), Ben Rode (Cycorp), Michael Witbrock (Cycorp).

Graduate and Postdoctoral Advisors: Gerald J. Sussman, MIT.

Total Graduate students: 39; Total Postdoctoral students: 3

Current Northwestern Ph.D Students: Computer Science: James Baker, Greg Dunham, Patricia Dyke, Dan Halstead, Matthew Klenk, Kate Lockwood, Andrew Lovett, Praveen Paritosh, Emmett Tomai, Leo Ureel, Jin Yan. Education: Karen Carney

Completed Students: Andy Bachmann, M.S. (NASA Ames), Bruce Martin, M.C.S.; Barry Smith, M.S.; John Hogge, M.S., Doug White, M.S., Rob Kracik, M.S., Boi Faltings, Ph.D.; Paul Nielsen, Ph.D. (Soar Technologies); Brian Falkenhainer, Ph.D.; John Collins, Ph.D. (U Miami), Hyeonkyeong Kim, Ph.D (Hanshin University).; Nikitas Sgouros, Ph.D. (National Technical University of Athens), Dennis DeCoste, Ph.D., Katarina Obradovic, M.S., John Everett, Ph.D. (AlphaTech), Maj Jim Donlon (US Army), M.S., Yusuf Pisan, Ph.D., Maj. Rob Rasch (US Army), M.S., Maj. Bill Trumel (US Army), M.S., Julie Baher, Ph.D. (SRI), Kevin Dill, M.S., (Quicksilver Studios), Ron Ferguson, Ph.D. (Georgia Tech), Joyce Ma, Ph.D (Exploratorium), Sven Kuehne, Ph.D. (NATO), Greg Dunham, M.S. (Microsoft), James Baker, M.S. (Startup), Praveen Paritosh, Ph.D. (Metaweb), Matthew Klenk, Ph.D. (NRL), Emmett Tomai (U Texas Pan American), Ph.D., Kate Lockwood, Ph.D. (Cal State Monterey Bay), Morteza Dehghani, Ph.D. (NU)

Previous Postdoctoral students: Thomas Bittner, Kees deKoning, Wolf Dobson

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