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BL2 Interns Receive Certification to Operate Advanced Brain Imaging Tool

Gallaudet University announced that five undergraduate and graduate students recently received certification to operate one of the world’s most advanced brain imaging systems, functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), which tracks the oxygen absorption of blood in the brain in reaction to different stimuli.

Students who received the certification were Brain and Language Lab (BL2) research interns Song-Hoa Choi, Geo Kartheiser, Krystal Johnson, Erin Spurgeon, and Yashi Poindexter. Since the National Science Foundation-funded BL2 opened in late 2011, seven students total have become certified to use fNIRS.

BL2 Science Director Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto and her team use fNIRS to study the acquisition and neural processing of visual language, the optimal conditions for bilingual language development, and the effects of early bilingual language exposure on the developing brain and its functions. The BL2 team also uses fNIRS to investigate the ways in which the age of a child’s first bilingual language exposure can both impact and benefit the brain’
s neural circuitry for language and higher cognition as well as how young monolingual and bilingual children develop the capacity to read.

To become certified to operate fNIRS, students completed an extensive training course that was designed and created by Petitto in accordance with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) ethical standards and guidelines. Petitto, who leads the brain seminar portion of the course, and her advanced research team, graduate students Kaja Jasinska and Clifton Langdon, led the other portions of the course. Jasinska and Langdon are in Petitto’s BL2 as well as in Gallaudet’s National Science Foundation-funded Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2). Student trainees were also required to complete 20 hours of observation and assisted practice with fNIRS.

“These newly certified students have a powerful tool at their disposal to aid their professional development,” said Petitto. The BL2 fNIRS is one of the few research-dedicated systems in the D.C. area available for student training. It is also particularly rare for undergraduate students to have access to such a sophisticated machine. I’m proud of the dedication and commitment of the BL2 interns and of the outstanding leadership and teaching by Kaja Jasinska and Clifton Langdon.

Choi, Kartheiser, Johnson, Spurgeon, and Poindexter are now considered expertly knowledgeable in fNIRS operations, which involves knowledge of the neurophysiological principles of how all such brain imaging systems function, basic brain neuroanatomy, experimental paradigms in contemporary brain imagine, fNIRS brain data collection as well as the maintenance, safety standards, and procedures associated with all such highly sophisticated brain imaging equipment. The students completed a module on the ethical treatment of research participants in brain imaging studies. Training in fNIRS neuroimaging provides additional career options in science and medicine, and greater possibilities for advanced academic study in the cognitive and educational neurosciences.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Institutes of Health, RO1 grant to Petitto (PI) grant number NIH 5R01HD45822, and the National Science Foundation under grant number SBE-1041725. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.

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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