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Three Gallaudet University students recently received certification to operate one of the world’s most advanced brain imaging systems, functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). The fNIRS system is housed in Gallaudet’s Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2) and is used to help the lab team study the acquisition and processing of American Sign Language (ASL), how children learn to read, and bilingualism.

Gallaudet graduate students Clifton Langdon and Millicent Musyoka and undergraduate student Kristine Gauna concluded the fNIRS training this past spring and summer. To become certified with fNIRS, the students completed an extensive training course taught by BL2 Director and Senior Scientist Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto and University of Toronto graduate student Kaja Jasinksa. The students were also required to operate the fNIRS system for a minimum of 20 hours.

By fulfilling the certification requirements, Langdon, Musyoka, and Gauna are now considered expertly knowledgeable in fNIRS operations, which involve data collection and maintenance, safety standards and procedures, ethical treatment of research participants, and more. Joining together with a new cohort of students to be trained mid-fall 2012, the BL2 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.

The fNIRS system tracks the movement of blood in the brain in reaction to different stimuli. Using the brain imaging tool, Petitto and her team 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 BL2 team also investigates 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, and how young monolingual and bilingual children develop the capacity to read.

“As the centerpiece of BL2, the fNIRS system is helping us shed light on language acquisition and bilingualism,” said Petitto. “With the addition of the three newly fNIRS-certified researchers, we will continue to expand our research in these fields to provide new knowledge about the biological mechanisms and environmental factors that together make possible the human capacity to learn and convey language.”

Petitto’s BL2 lab is one of a collection of labs spanning the United States that make up the National Science Foundation’s Science of Learning Center on campus, called Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2).

Petitto Funding: USA, NIH 5R01HD45822 Research Grant

This material is based upon work supported by 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.

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