Current BL2 Team


Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto Founder and Scientific Director of the Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2)

Where is my heart from: Montreal, Canada and Abruzzo, Italy

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and Developmental Cognitive Neuroscientist. She conducts neuroimaging studies using functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS / NIRx) and behavioral basic science studies to understand language acquisition, reading, bilingual language acquisition, and learning in all young children, particularly young deaf visual learners. She is the Science Director as well as the Co-Principal Investigator of the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center, Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2). Dr. Petitto is also the Founder and Scientific Director of her Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2). Further, Dr. Petitto is the lead founder, as well as Chair of the Steering Committee of the Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience (PEN) program at Gallaudet University, the first Ph.D. of its kind in the nation, where she is also Professor. For Gallaudet University, Dr. Petitto is Academic Co-Director and Steering Committee Member of “Creativity Way” (a 21st Century learning and discovery creative city being built on a section of Gallaudet University). Dr. Petitto is also a Professor in Psychology at Gallaudet University and an Affiliated 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 35 years, beginning in the 1970’s with her research at Columbia University in which she attempted to teach sign language to a baby chimpanzee (“Project Nim Chimpsky” named after Noam Chomsky); here, she pioneered discoveries that showed that chimpanzees, while intelligent, do not possess the linguistic capacities of humans. She is presently known for her discoveries concerning how young human children acquire language, be it spoken or signed. She has advanced new knowledge about how all young babies (4-10 months) detect highly specific rhythmic temporal patterns in the linguistic stream around them that makes possible their capacity to discover the phonetic syllabic units of their native from which they will build all the words and/or signs in language, a process that is vital to later healthy reading success. Babies who miss being exposed to natural languages during this critical developmental period—or have reduced language exposure at this time—can be at risk for language and cognitive delays. Consequently, Petitto and her collaborative research teams have invented a revolutionary learning tool prototype called “RAVE”— a Robot AVatar thermal Enhanced language learning tool (see RAVE link). Petitto’s career has been characterized by such innovations in technology, as she pushes technologies to advance fundamental questions in science for the benefit of society, including PET, MRI, fMRI, OPTOTRAK, functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS, NIRx; state-of-the-art brain-imaging techniques to study human higher cognition) that she and collaborators integrate with Thermal Infrared Imaging (measures changes in human emotion), inclusive of eye- and face-tracking and Motion Capture Technologies.


Interesting fact about me: I love red hats!

Cryss Padilla, Scientist Manager

Where is my heart from: Riverside, California.

I graduated high school at the California School for the Deaf in Riverside as the Class of 05. I received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology in 2014 then completed the Masters in American Sign Language Education and partial of Deaf Education in 2017. During graduate studies, I was a Graduate Research Assistant at the Petitto’s Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2). After testing the waters of teaching American Sign Language,  I decided to bring dedication and knowledge back to the BL2 laboratory as the Scientist Laboratory Assistant to Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto since June 2018. I am devoted to the lab as it includes all of the fields of study such as biology, American Sign Language, and Deaf Education into one place which enhances my interests in visual and bilingual research.

Interesting fact about me: I love spoilers...

Dr. Bradley E. White, Neuroimaging Scientist Manager

Where is my heart from: The Lone Star State

Dr. White received his Ph.D. in Educational Neuroscience from Gallaudet University in 2019 and his BS (Hons) in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a minor in Psychology from The Honors College at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 2014. He also has academic and clinical training in the areas of speech-language pathology, audiology, and pharmacology.

Broadly speaking, Dr. White's work focuses on the neurocognitive and neurobiological systems for effortful listening and advances our understanding of language perception and comprehension in children and adults, especially those who use hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Interesting fact about me: I have a knack for gastronomy.

Grady Gallagher, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Where is my heart from: Las Vegas, Nevada.


Here are some answers to common questions I’m asked: No, I did not live in the casinos. Also, I am also a terrible poker player. 

I succeeded with a B.A. in Psychology from Gallaudet in ’11, then an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from California State University: Northridge (CSUN) in ’14. I came back to Gallaudet for my Ph.D. because I want to learn from experts who integrate the Deafhood perspective into the psychology profession. My focus is on providing individual therapy to adults who are living with mood disorders, though that interest is broadening the more I work with people. My view is that humans are funny creatures; each person is a universe of their own and filled with quirks and unique ways of interacting with the world. I enjoy learning about us as individuals, and I’m lucky that my passion happens to come with a career path. 

Interesting fact about me: Though I love clinical psychology, if there was a career path for simply reading fantasy/sci-fi novels, I’d probably be double majoring right now. I am a particular sucker for books that are a part of a huge series (looking at you, The Wheel of Time). 

Kailyn Aaron-Lozano, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Master’s in Sign Language Education

Where is my heart from: Los Angeles, California

I was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, CA, learning the ropes of the Entertainment Industry and Sign Language use age from a young age. I received my BA in History from California State University – Northridge. Then took a 5-year break from school to explore the Industry as an ASL Director/Master in multiple films/theatres. Those five years led me back to school to study at Gallaudet University in Deaf Studies – Cultural Studies. For two years, I developed my Popular Culture thesis about ASL Music Video and graduated with my MA in Deaf Studies in Spring 2020. Shortly then, I began pursuing my second MA in Sign Language Education. During my academic journey, I'm fortunate to contribute my linguistic skills and develop my research ability with  Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto and her Brain Language Center on campus. With my linguistic knowledge integrated into the world of neuroscience, I can achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a Deaf Studies Professor, Professional ASL Master, and a Researcher on Deaf Popular Culture and Language Arts

Interesting fact about me: The travel bug has bitten me. I’ve backpacked Europe 4 times in over 10 countries. Twice were by myself for over 1.5 months in the summer. And I will be heading back in the summer post-covid!

Joseph Antonio, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Master’s in American Sign Language and Deaf Culture Studies

Where is my heart from: Detroit, Michigan.


Michigan as a first-generation Filipino American with dreams of being a professional backup dancer. My brother and I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a dance career a little after high school. Luckily for me, the big move led me to learn more about myself as a deaf individual after being an oral deaf person for the first 25 years of my life. I found American Sign Language a year after living in LA which lead me to more opportunities in the Entertainment Industry. As I build a name for myself, I realized I lack the academic knowledge in becoming a well-rounded person. This motivated me to come to Gallaudet University and major in Bachelor’s in Communication Studies with a minor in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. Two years passed and I was given the honor to work under Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto at Brain Language Laboratory (BL2) as an undergraduate research assistant. With my performance experiences integrated into the world of neuroscience and linguistics, I look forward in becoming an ASL Professor and a Researcher on Deaf Performance and Language Arts.

Interesting fact about me: As of 2021, ASL has been in my life for 8 years now. Within those six years, I worked with Youtube RED, Deaf West Theatre, tv shows, several music videos, stage, film work as well as performing at different Deaf expos around the country.

Yeh Kim, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Sign Language Education and Deaf Studies Certificate

Where is my heart from: Seoul, South Korea.

I was raised in eight states and countries with different families. As a former oral student, I graduated high school at the Marriotts Ridge High School in Maryland. I received a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems at Rochester Institute of Technology and later obtained a Master of Science in Professional Studies concentrating on Deaf Education and Human Resource Development. I taught math and science at the Wisconsin School for the Deaf. I also interpreted for deaf and hard of hearing communities in Southern California. As a signed language activist, I enjoy being a teacher, linguist, interpreter, and researcher. I am very blessed to work for Petitto's Brain and Language Laboratory (BL2) that includes my experiences and studies to improve my quality and value in my linguistic research. 

Interesting fact about me: I may be a nerd, but I was a model. As an INTJ, I love to learn new things and open to others.

Kristina McKinnie, Graduate Research Assistant, studying Master's Deaf Culture Studies


Where is my heart from: Akron, Ohio

I am a graduate student at Gallaudet studying Deaf Cultural studies and will graduate in 2022. I am deaf, however, I attended mainstream school from kindergarten through grade 12. My first experience at a deaf school was when I attended the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID). I also attended Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science in 2019. While at RIT, I had an internship at DOW Chemical company as a summer research assistant. I decided to pursue Deaf Cultural studies because I want to learn more about Deaf culture and pursue my career to work with deaf/hard of hearing children or become a deaf advocate to support the deaf community. This leads me to explore more about research fields to work at the BL2 lab.

Interesting fact about me: I was born and raised in Akron, Ohio, the home of famous basketball player LeBron James and I am a wanderlust because I love traveling to explore new places.

Ryan Horner, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's Psychology with a minor in Public Health Science


Where is my heart from: Queens, New York

Born and raised in New York, but for the last 6 years, I spent most of my time in DC, and it is slowly becoming my home. I graduated from Model Secondary School for the Deaf and entered Gallaudet in 2017 as a first-generation college student. I decided to do a major in Psychology because helping people is what I do best, and I can use that opportunity to explore who I am today. I aim to get a degree in either MSW or Psy. S. and work in a school environment because I believe it is the best place to work with kids as they grow and explore. Besides all that, my goal is to take a leap and explore the world of Research; That is why I am here as BL2 Research Assistant. 

Interesting fact about me: Only left-handed in the family

Claudia Smistek, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's Neuroscience with a Pre-Med Track.


Where is my heart from: Buffalo, New York

I am a first year undergraduate student at Gallaudet University. My pronouns are She/Her/Hers. I'm a neuroscience major with a pre-med track. I am a science geek, and I love learning about anything related to neuroscience. I am from Buffalo, New York. In my free time, I love to read dystopian books and go hiking. I also love to spend time with my pets! I am thrilled to be working with the amazing BL2 team! 

Interesting fact about me: I have six cats, two dogs, and a chicken! 

Joseph Palagano, Undergraduate Research Assistant, studying Bachelor's History and minoring in Education


Where is my heart from: Villa Rica, Georgia

I was born on the western outskirts of Georgia, bordering Alabama. I am hearing and began my journey here at Gallaudet during the Fall semester of 2019 after an internship as a teaching assistant at the Georgia School for the Deaf. Since coming to Gallaudet, I have really been able to expand my horizons and grow as a person, thanks to my wonderful group of friends who are honestly more like family. I plan to pursue an advanced educational degree focusing on international pedagogical methodologies with a concentration in Deaf education. I love staying curious about the vastly unknown world around me, and that drive is what pushed me to be here at the BL2 Lab.   

Interesting fact about me: I have a tattoo of the ASL for coffee on my right arm :)