Academics
Areas of Study
December 08, 2011

Author: Kaitlin Luna
Washington, D.C. (December 9, 2011) Gallaudet University is pleased to announce the opening of its new Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2). BL2 is led by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto, a world-renowned cognitive neuroscientist and a developmental cognitive neuroscientist, who is known for her three decades of discoveries about language learning in the human brain, the bilingual brain, the reading brain, and for her discoveries about the acquisition and neural organization of American Sign Language (ASL).

The centerpiece of the state-of-the-art laboratory is a functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), one of the world’s most advanced brain imaging systems. The fNIRS tracks the movement of blood in the brain in reaction to different stimuli. The BL2 team will take part in neuroimaging and behavioral studies to provide new knowledge about the biological mechanisms and environmental factors that together make possible the human capacity to learn and convey language.

“Our objective at BL2 is to investigate new scientific questions and to make significant discoveries in the fields of cognitive neuroscience and children’s language development that will have the greatest benefits for society,” Petitto said. “With a wealth of scientific innovations and equipment at ou fingertips, my team and I have the necessary tools to achieve both our scientific and educational goals.

Petitto and her team will study the acquisition and neural processing of ASL, the optimal conditions for bilingual language development, the effects of early bilingual language exposure on the developing brain, and its functions. The team will also investigate the ways that the age of first bilingual language exposure can both impact and benefit the brain’s neural circuitry for language and higher cognition, and how young monolingual and bilingual children develop the capacity of reading.

“At Gallaudet University, we are always endeavoring to break ground in a number of research fields of importance to the deaf community as well as to the larger scientific community,” said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. “BL2 is another example of how Gallaudet is moving innovation and scientific research forward.”

Dr. Soo-Siang Lim, program director of the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Centers, said the agency is elated about the opening of the lab.

“The National Science Foundation hopes BL2 is a catalyst to grow the next generation of scholars who will one day become worldwide leaders in research and education,” Dr. Lim said.

Gallaudet University, federally chartered in 1864, is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that ensures the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Gallaudet maintains a proud tradition of research and scholarly activity and prepares its graduates for career opportunities in a highly competitive, technological, and rapidly changing world.

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