Our Team


Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto

Scientific Director, BL2 & Co-PI, VL2

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto is the Scientific Director and Co-Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation and Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2). Dr. Petitto is the founder of her Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2). She is also its Scientific Director. She is a Full Professor in Psychology at Gallaudet University and an Affiliated Full Professor in Psychology at Georgetown University. Dr. Petitto is known for her work on the biological bases of language, especially involving early language acquisition. Her studies of this topic span 30 years, beginning in 1973 with her research at Columbia University in which she attempted to teach sign language to a baby chimpanzee (“Project Nim Chimpsky”). She is presently known for her discoveries concerning how young human children acquire language, be it spoken or signed, and she has also probed the neural basis of language in the brain of adults using modern PET, MRI, fMRI, and functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) brain-imaging techniques. 

Dr. Barbara Manini

Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Barbara Manini is Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto’s postdoctoral fellow in BL2.  She obtained her M.S., cum laude, in Developmental Psychology in 2011 and her Ph.D. in Functional Neuroimaging in 2015 from the University Gabriele D’Annuzio of Chieti-Pescara in Italy.  During her master’s and doctoral training, Dr. Manini worked with Dr. Arcangelo Merla at the Infrared Imaging Laboratory of the Institute of Advanced Biomedical Technology (ITAB) in Chieti, Italy, acquiring a specialized expertise in the use of infrared thermal imaging. Also during her Ph.D. studies, she was a visiting student at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London. Dr. Manini is employed by Next2U, a start up founded by Dr. Merla, to work for the “Seeing the Rhythmic Temporal Beats of Human Language” project awarded by the Keck Foundation grant. Under the guidance of Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto & Team, she is advancing the science and technology at BL2 for the identification of emotional arousal signatures of babies’ readiness to learn as well as their perception of rhythmic phonological patterning via infrared thermal imaging.

Kristine Gauna

Research Administrator

Kristine Gauna received her bachelor’s degree in International Studies from Gallaudet University in 2012 and is currently NIH-certified to perform studies with fNIRS.  Fluent in 4 languages and a strong advocate for bilingualism, her professional interests focuses on how the brain acquires language.  She is recently reunited with Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto at Gallaudet University, after working with her for a number of years at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.  Whilst at McGill University, she was involved with Dr. Petitto’s neuroimaging study of sign language processing in Deaf individuals at Montreal Neurological Institute, which appeared in Science; including studies of child language acquisition.

Geo Kartheiser

Graduate Intern, Educational Neuroscience

Geo Kartheiser is a 4th year Ph.D. student in Educational Neuroscience at Gallaudet University with Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto as his Advisor. He is also a current BL2 research assistant on the Keck and NSF INSPIRE projects (Petitto, PI). He received his undergraduate degree in advertising and public relations from Rochester Institute of Technology, and since then has assisted research on visual attention, brain plasticity, and signed-language assessment tools. Kartheiser currently holds the prestigious Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31) from the U.S. National Institutes of Health. His work investigates the nature of neural plasticity by the learning of new language after the sensitive period for language acquisition. Specifically, how learning a signed language well past the sensitive period impacts the neural networks that support language, learning, and higher cognition. He is also interested in how scientists can improve their relationship with the public. When not wearing the lab coat, Geo enjoys cycling, running, and eating exotic food.

Bradley White

Graduate Intern, Educational Neuroscience

Bradley Whitea 3rd year student in the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) program at Gallaudet University, joined Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto’s Brian and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2) in 2014. He received his bachelor of science, summa cum laude, in communication sciences and disorders with a minor in psychology in 2014 from The Honors College at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in Kingsville, Texas. Bradley has academic and clinical training in the areas of speech-language pathology, audiology, and pharmacology, holding national certification with the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and state registration with the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. His primary research interests explore the neural substrates of language using variations in language perception, such as those with augmented hearing sensation via hearing technologies (e.g., hearing aids, cochlear implants, auditory brainstem implants) as a unique lens. Specifically, Bradley is interested in using these different signals to reveal how top-down linguistic processes are modulated by bottom-up variations, which holds much promise to better understand cognitive load and linguistic processes in hearing loss. These scientific discoveries also have high potential for translational implications for clinicians, policy makers, educators, and engineers.

Lauren Berger

Graduate Intern, Educational Neuroscience

Lauren Berger is a first year student in the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience program at Gallaudet University. She graduated cum laude from Rochester Institute of Technology in 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a minor in Language Science. Her research interests explore the neuroplasticity and resilience of the neural substrates of the human language network and in what manners this network may be constrained yet flexible. Specifically, Lauren is interested in using protacticle ASL as a lens into how the human language network is surpamodal, meaning the brain process language the same throughout the visual, auditory, and tactile modalities.

Diana Andriola

Graduate Intern, Educational Neuroscience

Diana Andriola is a 4th year PhD student in Educational Neuroscience at Gallaudet University. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Northridge in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Deaf Studies. Her research interests focus on second language acquisition and literacy development for deaf readers who have acquired their first language later in life. In particular, she is interested in understanding how findings demonstrating positive correlations between ASL phonological awareness and literacy development in young deaf learners can translate to the unique needs of older deaf learners who struggle with reading and writing and have experienced delays in their first language exposure.

Maxwell Graham-Putter

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Gregorio Mata

Undergraduate Research Assistant

Zoey Walker

Graduate Research Assistant

New Hires for 2017-2018 (Photos and Bios coming soon!)