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BL2 is Heating Up with Thermal Infrared Imaging

September 03, 2015

[Image description: Dr. Barbara Manini in front of a backdrop. The backdrop is white and tiled with identical BL2 logos. The logo consists of the characters “B-L-2” over a contemporary red, blue, yellow, and green brain design.]

Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto and team’s Brain and Language Laboratory for Neuroimaging (BL2), a research laboratory and resource hub of the National Science Foundation and Gallaudet University’s Science of Learning Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2), opened its doors to a new postdoctoral trainee researcher this summer, Dr. Barbara Manini. Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto (VL2 Co-PI and Science Director, BL2 Scientific Director) has invited Dr. Manini to be the lead postdoctoral researcher on the recently won Keck Foundation Major Grant (Petitto, PI), entitled “Seeing the Rhythmic Temporal Beats of Human Language.” The three-year Keck grant, totaling over $1 million, will support the investigation of the early language needs of children with minimal or delayed language exposure, and especially seeks to reduce the devastating deleterious impact of late language exposure in young deaf babies.

Dr. Manini will be developing the thermal infrared imaging interface that will be used with the RAVE, or “Robot AVatar thermal-Enhanced prototype,” a robot designed to engage babies’ interest and identify babies’ emotional arousal signatures of being “ready to learn.” In turn, the robot will make available to the baby socially-interactive and spontaneous language samples as signed to them with virtual humans.

Dr. Petitto first met Dr. Manini at the University Gabriele D’Annunzio of Chieti-Pescara in Italy, in Professor Arcangelo Merla’s Infrared Imaging and Optical Imaging Laboratories (Merla, Director). Dr. Merla—who was Dr. Manini’s primary graduate student Advisor—is both a world leader on thermal infrared imaging and one of the lead researchers and collaborators in Petitto’s Keck grant.

Dr. Manini received her Master of Science in Developmental Psychology cum laude in 2011 and her Doctor of Philosophy in Functional Neuroimaging in 2015 from the University of Chieti. Her master’s thesis investigated the moral emotions in preschoolers by measuring facial temperature variations produced by the autonomic nervous system. Her doctoral dissertation continued this investigation into moral emotions by focusing on the synchrony of emotion in parent-child dyads. Dr. Manini is also a licensed psychologist through the Italian Association of Psychology.

In addition to her doctoral training in thermal infrared imaging with Dr. Merla, Dr. Manini was a visiting student at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development at Birkbeck, University of London, where she was trained in both functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) for use with infants.

Dr. Manini’s skills and experiences will greatly benefit BL2 and Gallaudet University, as she advances the lab’s technology to investigate questions related to how babies learn. Under the training guidance of Dr. Petitto, we look forward to Dr. Manini’s leading scientific discoveries here at Gallaudet University.

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