PEN Faculty

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto

The PhD in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) program was founded at Gallaudet University by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (Chair, PEN Steering Committee and PEN Program Professor), a leading cognitive neuroscientist who first helped create the discipline of Educational Neuroscience (2001, 2004) and built related programs at multiple institutions prior to coming to Gallaudet in 2011.

Dr. Petitto pioneered the creation of the PEN program, which she built with Dr. Thomas Allen (Program Director, PEN) and Dr. Melissa Herzig (Assistant Program Director, PEN). Dr. Petitto’s hope was to create a top tier advanced graduate program in the Cognitive-Educational Neurosciences at Gallaudet University that would serve as a galvanizing model of the good of science and society for the nation.

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto also 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.