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Noted cognitive neuroscientist Laura-Ann Petitto to join Gallaudet University Science of Learning Center

April 11, 2011
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Washington, D.C. – April 11, 2011 – Gallaudet University announced today that Laura-Ann Petitto has been named science director and co-principal investigator of the university’s Visual Language and Visual Learning Center (VL2), one of only six Science of Learning Centers in the country funded by the National Science Foundation.

Petitto, a cognitive neuroscientist and a developmental cognitive neuroscientist, is known for 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. She is particularly known for discovering language and reading advantages in young bilingual children exposed to two languages early in life (including bilingual children who are bimodal bilinguals using a signed and a spoken language). She has further articulated key similarities and differences that exist between the human and chimpanzee mind, and she has advanced a testable theory about the brain structures and environmental factors that together make possible early language acquisition in our species.  She is the recipient of over 25 international prizes and awards for her scientific discoveries, including a 1998 Guggenheim Award in Neuroscience, and, in 2009, she was appointed Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Established in 2006, Gallaudet University’s VL2 center supports over 30 interdisciplinary research projects across 10 different universities both domestic and international. The purpose of VL2 is to gain a greater understanding of the biological, cognitive, linguistic, sociocultural and pedagogical conditions that influence the acquisition of language and knowledge through the visual modality.

When Petitto joins the faculty as a tenured, full professor in the Department of Psychology on July 1, 2011, she will assume her full time responsibilities as science director of VL2, overseeing all of the scientific and translational activities of the center.

Petitto was one of the original founders of “Educational Neuroscience,” a pioneering interdisciplinary field that marries basic discoveries in the brain sciences involving the development of core knowledge in children such as language and bilingualism, reading, math, science, and social-emotional relations with looming problems in contemporary education policy and approaches. For example, Petitto’s own research has been used to create benchmarks for typical and atypical language development for young bilingual children, and has widely impacted education and language policy in the United States and Canada.

“We look forward to Dr. Petitto’s leadership of VL2,” said Gallaudet University President T. Alan Hurwitz. “Her research related to the linguistic validity of the signed languages of deaf people around the world, including especially American Sign Language, makes her uniquely qualified to direct the center’s work.”

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.

Contact: Catherine Murphy
  202-250-2738 (VP)


Information in this press release is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number SBE-0541953. 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.

11 April 2011


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