The DeLTA Center traces its roots to 1917, with the founding of the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station (ICWRS) by Carl Seashore and Cora Hillis. Widely recognized for giving birth to the field of child development, the ICWRS was funded in its earliest years by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, created by John D. Rockefeller Sr. in memory of his wife. With a mandate to promote the welfare of women and children worldwide, the Memorial was one of the major applied social science supporters throughout 1920s America.

While the Memorial fund ended in 1929, the ICWRS remained a force for decades -- reshaping how people think about children as active contributors to their own development, and pioneering research that led to substantial scientific and social policy advances, including the Head Start program. When the ICWRS faded in the 1970s, funding shifted to the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

Today, the DeLTA Center reclaims this rich history, turning 20th-century excellence into a 21st-century science of change. The DeLTA Center focuses on the process of change -- how individuals get from one place to another via systems characterized by multi-level complexity and continuity.

Our mission is to address key challenges facing health and education in society today via discovery and communication of fundamental principles of development and learning.

Our bold ambition is to be the national leader in a systems approach to the study of learning and development.


The DeLTA Center is an interdisciplinary research community transforming conventional conceptions of development and learning by promoting reciprocal interactions between basic and applied researchers, by training the next generation of collaborative scientists, and by actively engaging with community partners. DeLTA Center members recognize that the processes of development and learning are fundamentally complex. These processes live at multiple levels -- from neurons to neighborhoods -- with reciprocal interactions at all levels. And these processes play out over multiple time scales, from the millisecond unfolding of action potentials in the brain to the time scale of behavior over days, months, and years. By embracing the complexity of the developmental system, the DeLTA Center contributes to a broader intellectual movement that advances a fresh vision of how science should approach the study of "change."

Fundamental Principles

The DeLTA Center is committed to the following principles:

  1. An understanding that human bodies and brains are in continual dialogue. This understanding motivates a systems approach to the study of development and learning.
  2. A recognition of the false dichotomy of nature versus nurture that, although generally regarded as naive, all too often serves as a default for explanation of development and learning in science and society. This recognition leads us away from efforts to quantify the relative importance of genes and the environment and towards an understanding of the mechanisms by which they work together over the lifespan.
  3. An acceptance of the complex integration of brain, mind, body, physical environment, social relationships, and large-scale social systems. This acceptance necessitates respect for a diversity of disciplinary perspectives and methods.
  4. A belief in the value of communication between scientists and other citizens. This belief inspires engaged scholarship.