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News Release 11-259

Gallaudet University Opens New Brain and Language Laboratory

Laboratory advances understanding of human capacity for language communication

a young woman being prepared by a researcher for a brain imaging system.

New lab studies biological mechanisms and environmental factors associated with language learning.

December 12, 2011

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

On Thursday, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., opened its new Brain and Language Laboratory designed to study how people learn and convey language.

Called BL2, the laboratory will help researchers acquire new knowledge about biological mechanisms and environmental factors that work together to forge human capacity for language communication.

"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," said BL2 Director Laura-Ann Petitto of Gallaudet. "With a wealth of scientific innovations and equipment at our fingertips, my team and I have the necessary tools to achieve both our scientific and educational goals."

Petitto is a world-renowned cognitive and developmental neuroscientist and the science director of the Science of Learning Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) funded by the National Science Foundation. She is known for her three decades of discoveries about language learning in the human brain. She is also known for her discoveries about the acquisition and neural organization of American Sign Language (ASL).

The centerpiece of the laboratory is a functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS), one of the world's most advanced brain imaging systems. The fNIRS tracks movement of blood in the brain in reaction to different stimuli.

Petitto and her team will use the fNIRS and other equipment to 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 also will 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 for reading.

"It has always been NSF's hope that VL2 wouldl serve to seed and to catalyze Gallaudet U's efforts to grow the next generation of scholars and to position Gallaudet graduates as leaders in research and education," said Soo-Siang Lim, program director for the Science of Learning Centers Program at NSF. "Gallaudet University's investments in Dr. Petitto's scientific leadership and the Brain and Language Learning Laboratory are significant new steps in making that hope a reality."

"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."

Federally chartered in 1864 by an Act of Congress, Gallaudet University is a bilingual, diverse, multicultural institution of higher education that focuses on the intellectual and professional advancement of deaf and hard of hearing individuals through American Sign Language and English. Its charter was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.


Media Contacts
Bobbie Mixon, NSF, (703) 292-8485, email:
Kaitlin Luna, Gallaudet University, (202) 448-7106, email:

Program Contacts
Soo-Siang Lim, NSF, (703) 292-7878, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2022 budget of $8.8 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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