Research

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Meet the Lab Members

Principal Investigator

Charles Nelson, Ph.D. (contact Charles Nelson)

Dr. Charles Nelson III

Charles A. Nelson, III, Ph.D.  is recognized internationally as a leader in the field of developmental cognitive neuroscience, where he has achieved numerous breakthroughs in broadening scientific understanding of brain and behavioral development during infancy and childhood. Over the last two decades, Dr.  Nelson has focused his research efforts on several different fields.  He has a long standing interest in the development and neural bases of memory and in how infants and young children come to recognize faces and facial expressions of emotion.  A more recent interest concerns infants and children at high risk for developing autism (such as those with an older sibling with autism or who have a particular genetic variance).He also has a particular interest in how early experience influences the course of development, and in this context has studied both typically developing children and children at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.  Two lines of work in particular stand out in this context.  One is concerned with the effects of early biological adversity, such as being born prematurely or low birth weight or having been deprived of oxygen.  The second is concerned with the effects of early psychosocial adversity.   In this regard, as a Primary Investigator for the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, for the last 10 years Dr. Nelson has been studying children in Romania who were abandoned at birth and raised in institutions.

Here at Boston Children’s Hospital, Dr. Nelson is the Director of Research in the Division of Developmental Medicine and the Richard David Scott Professor of Pediatric Developmental Medicine Research. He is also a Professor of Pediatrics and Neuroscience and Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, an adjunct professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Professor in the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, at the Harvard School of Public Health.  He also teaches classes in Harvard College, and serves on the steering committee of both the Harvard interfaculty initiative on Mind, Brain and Behavior, and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.

Dr.  Nelson is frequently cited in print and TV media on topics as diverse as early brain development, the development of face perception, memory development, the effects of early psychosocial deprivation on development, and autism.  He has published over 200 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters, has edited 8 books, and written 2 books. He has also been a successful leader of large-scale research initiatives within the psychology and neuroscience communities.

Click here to see news coverage of Dr. Nelson and the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience. 

For a select list of publications, click here.

 


Program Managers

Morgan Crossman, M.A. (contact Morgan Crossman)

joined the LCN as the Clinical Research Program Manager in June 2014. I oversee Dr. Nelson’s large autism research program as well as several studies investigating the development of children with Down syndrome, Rett Syndrome, and Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. I received a Master’s degree in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology in 2009 from Boston College. I am presently completing my doctoral research toward a Ph.D. in Social Policy with a focus in Disability Policy from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. My doctoral research investigates the joint impact of early intervention services and the family environment on the well-being of families raising children with developmental disabilities over the life-course. My research interests include exploring how experiences in early childhood shape developmental trajectories for children with disabilities and their families. I am also interested in service utilization, the quality of services, and state-level variation in early childhood systems.

Swapna Kumar, M.A. (contact Swapna Kumar)

I joined the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience in the fall of 2014 as the program manager for an exciting new neuroimaging project taking place in urban and rural Bangladesh. I received my bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Rochester, and my master’s degree in Epidemiology at the University at Buffalo.  During my graduate work, I became involved in global health work through water/sanitation projects based in Bangladesh, and I’m thrilled to continue this global focus through innovative projects at the Nelson Lab with a great team of researchers. 

Post Doctoral Researchers

Johanna Bick, Ph.D (contact Johanna Bick)

I received my Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Delaware. As a doctoral student, I explored the neurobiological and psychophysiological correlates of bonding between at risk mothers and infants, with the goal of understanding how non-optimal parent-infant relationships may place infants at risk for adverse outcomes. After completing a postdoctoral training program at the Child Study Center at Yale University, I joined the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience in the Fall of 2013. As a research fellow, I am examining how insufficient early rearing experiences, characterized by profound psychosocial deprivation in institutional rearing contexts, may alter neural pathways that subserve social-emotional adjustment and cognitive functioning. I am also exploring how early intervention programs may attenuate risk for atypical neural, psychosocial, and cognitive development. 

Jocelyn LeBlanc, Ph.d (contact Jocelyn LeBlanc)

 I joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow in July 2013 after receiving my PhD in Neuroscience from Harvard. My graduate work focused on investigating the neurobiological basis of autism. Specifically, I used molecular, biochemical, and electrophysiological methods to characterize the development of the visual cortex in a genetic mouse model of autism. I found interesting changes in visual processing and plasticity that were accompanied by an altered balance of cortical excitation and inhibition. As part of an exciting collaboration between my doctoral lab and the Nelson lab, I am now collecting electrophysiological data, including EEG and event-related potentials, from children with Rett Syndrome, a progressive neurodevelopmental disorder caused by mutations in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene. My goal is to determine if cortical processing of sensory stimuli is altered in Rett Syndrome and if we could ultimately use such measures as a biomarker of cortical function during the early regression period.

Katherine Perdue, Ph.D. (contact Katherine Perdue)

I received my PhD in Engineering Sciences from the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth in December 2012. My dissertation work focused on near-infrared spectroscopy modeling and methods, with applications to multimodal neuroimaging. I joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow in January 2013 and have been working on developing neuroimaging methods and physiological signal processing algorithms for use with infants. 


Kandice Varcin, Ph.D. (contact Kandice Varcin)

I joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow in August 2013 after completing my Ph.D. and Masters in Clinical Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. My doctoral research focused on the identification and characterization of mechanisms contributing to social cognitive disruption in individuals with schizophrenia using electrophysiological techniques. At the LCN I will be expanding my repertoire of neuroscientific techniques to investigate potential neurobehavioral and cognitive markers of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) emerging in infancy in various clinical and high-risk populations. The overarching goal of this stream of research is to identify early markers of developmental disorders that will translate to earlier diagnosis and intervention at the clinical level.

Affiliated Faculty/Researchers

Michelle Bosquet, Ph.D. (contact Michelle Bosquet)
I received a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in developmental and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota. I have completed a fellowship in infant mental health and postdoctoral training in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress responses. I am primarily interested in understanding the ways in which children become vulnerable to developing mental health problems early in development. One specific area where I have focused is the study of the impact of maternal anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder on infant emotional and biological development. I am currently investigating associations between mothers' traumatic life experiences and mothers' and infants' abilities to regulate their emotions and their physiological responses to stress. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and other lab members, I am examining how infants of mothers with significant trauma histories may process emotions differently at the neural level than infants of mothers without a significant trauma history. I hope that the information from these studies will help us prevent the development of mental health problems in children.

Graduate Student Researchers

Laura Edwards (contact Laura Edwards)
I am a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University and subsequently worked in clinical psychology research for two years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Autism Program. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and brain development of typically and atypically developing children, in order to use this knowledge to construct developmentally appropriate educational curricula and interventions for individual learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities.


Research Assistants

Lauren Baczewski (contact Lauren Baczewski)
I joined the LCN as a Clinical Research Assistant in May 2015 after receiving a Master’s degree in Child Study and Human Development from Tufts University. My master’s research focused on children at risk for language delay and factors that may contribute to their resilient functioning. Prior to attending Tufts, I worked as a behavioral interventionist with children with developmental and physical disabilities. I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Spanish from University of California at Santa Barbara in 2012. I am thrilled to be working on several research projects that aim to gain a greater understanding of Rett Syndrome, Tuberous Sclerosis, and gender differences in autism. 


Perry Dinardo (contact Perry Dinardo)
I graduated from Duke University in the spring of 2014, with a B.A. in Psychology and minors in Chemistry and Theater Studies. As an undergraduate, I developed an interest in gene-environment interactions, and my independent study specifically investigated the effects of early childhood stress on IQ throughout the lifespan. I am thrilled to be a part of the Nelson Lab and I am currently working on the Emotion Project, which examines the neural bases of emotion processing in early childhood. I love working with children, and hope to attend medical school in the future to become a pediatrician.


Jack Keller (contact Jack Keller)
I graduated from Tufts University in 2012 with a B.S. in Biopsychology. During my time there I worked in a variety of labs: from the interpersonal communications and psychopharmacology labs at the university, to the Gabrieli and Feng labs in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at MIT. After college, I worked at a specialized school for children with autism as well as in a cognitive neuroscience lab at MGH – I also took this time to finish up some prerequisites in a post-baccalaureate program. Currently I am helping out with multiple studies in the Nelson lab with a focus on the ACE study, which aims to broaden our understanding of gender differences in autism.


Sarah McCormick (contact Sarah McCormick)
I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2013 with a B.S. in Psychology and a concentration in Neuroscience. I am currently working on the emotion project, which is examining the development and neural bases of emotion processing across infancy and early childhood, from five months of age to three years of age. The current study uses a variety of methodologies to investigate emotion processing in 5 – 12 month old infants, including electrophysiology, near infrared spectroscopy, eye tracking, genetics, and physiological measures.


Anna Zhou (contact Anna Zhou)
I graduated from Tufts University in May 2015 with a B.S. in Cognitive Brain Science and Child Development. As an undergraduate, I worked in a variety of child development and clinical psychology labs, such as the Harvard Lab for Youth Mental Health and the Faja Laboratory. I developed an interest in the relationship between brain and behavior during development, and my Senior Honors Thesis focused on examining developmental effects on cognitive biases in children with Social Anxiety Disorder. I am currently working on the Emotion Project, which examines the neural bases of emotion processing during early development.


Michelle Bosquet, Ph.D. (contact Michelle Bosquet)
I received a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in developmental and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota. I have completed a fellowship in infant mental health and postdoctoral training in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress responses. I am primarily interested in understanding the ways in which children become vulnerable to developing mental health problems early in development. One specific area where I have focused is the study of the impact of maternal anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder on infant emotional and biological development. I am currently investigating associations between mothers' traumatic life experiences and mothers' and infants' abilities to regulate their emotions and their physiological responses to stress. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and other lab members, I am examining how infants of mothers with significant trauma histories may process emotions differently at the neural level than infants of mothers without a significant trauma history. I hope that the information from these studies will help us prevent the development of mental health problems in children.

Christine Mrakotsky, Ph.D. (contact Christine Mrakotsky)
I received both my Masters degree and my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology/Neuropsychology from the University of Vienna, Austria -the latter in collaboration with Washington University in St. Louis. I completed a clinical post-doctoral fellowship in Pediatric Neuropsychology at Boston Children's Hospital followed by a research fellowship funded by the National Institutes of Health. I joined the faculty of Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in 2003. My research has focused on hormonal and immune influences on brain and behavioral development in both children with chronic illness and children experiencing stress. Specific studies investigate the effects of steroids on memory and learning in children treated for inflammatory conditions involving the immune system (i.e. Crohn's disease) and for leukemia. In a longitudinal project supported by NIH, we study the brain effects of steroids, immune response, and stress on learning in ill and healthy children. We use neuropsychological assessments, neuroimaging (fMRI) and electrophysiological (ERP) tools in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience with the goal to elucidate brain-immune interactions and the safety of steroid therapy much needed for treatment of pediatric illness.

Graduate Student Researchers

Laura Edwards (contact Laura Edwards)
I am a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University and subsequently worked in clinical psychology research for two years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Autism Program. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and brain development of typically and atypically developing children, in order to use this knowledge to construct developmentally appropriate educational curricula and interventions for individual learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities.

Research Assistants

Kerri Downing (contact Kerri Downing)
I received a bachelors of arts in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience from the University of Connecticut. My honors thesis centered on the novelty and familiarity preferences of children with autism. Currently, I am a research assistant for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infants siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves.

 
Geneva DeGregorio (contact Geneva DeGregorio)
I graduated from Tufts University in 2011 with a B.A. in Child Development. I first joined the Nelson Lab in the summer of 2009, as an undergraduate research assistant working on a variety of projects investigating atypical development. I completed my senior honors thesis using data from a study focusing on autism and the development of face and object processing. Currently, I am working on multiple studies that are using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development from infancy through adolescence in atypical populations including autism, tuberous sclerosis complex and Rett syndrome.

Vanessa Loukas (contact Vanessa Loukas)
I joined the LCN as the Family Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project in 2011. The Infant Sibling Project is a collaborative project between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University studying the development of language, social, and communication skills in infants who have a sibling diagnosed with autism, a speech or language delay, or no known developmental difficulties. I also coordinate the genetics portion of the project and work as the phlebomotist to collect genetics samples. Prior to my participation in the LCN, I worked in the MRI Department at Boston Children’s Hospital and graduated from Skidmore College with a B.A. in Psychology in 2009.

Stephanie Marshall (contact Stephanie Marshall)
I joined the LCN in 2011 due to an interest in the early development of both typically developing children, and children with developmental disorders. After receiving a B.A. in Psychology at UCLA and working briefly as an ABA therapist, I worked as part of a research team at UCLA studying the development of children with autism and their younger siblings. Currently, I work as a research assistant on the Infant Sibling Project, a collaborative project between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University that studies the development of infant siblings of children who have a language impairment or an autism spectrum disorder.

Tessa Clarkson (contact Tessa Clarkson)
I received my B.S from Boston University in Human Physiology in 2011. During college I worked overseas on a variety of NGOs in Cambodia and Thailand on projects ranging from education and rehabilitation of trafficked and battered women and children, providing rural communities education on HIV/AIDS, developing physiotherapy programs for children with disabilities and HIV/AIDS, building community centers for Burmese refugee,s and working at orphanages to promote better hygiene. Throughout college I developed an interest in developmental and cognitive neuroscience. I joined the LCN in April of 2012 and am currently working on multiple studies using ERP, NIRS and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development in rare populations at high risk for autism including Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, Rett Syndrome and 16p. I am interested in the development of early biomarkers for autism and changes in sensory processing in atypically developing populations.

Dana Bullister (contact Dana Bullister)
I graduated from Wellesley College in 2012 with a double major in Computer Science and in Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences with an emphasis in Psychology. I am currently involved in a new study investigating the development of emotion recognition in infants. This study involves integrating methods such as event-related potentials (ERPs), near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS), skin conductance, eye tracking, and pupillometry.

- See more at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research-and-innovation/research-labs/nelson-laboratory/meet-the-lab-members#sthash.SPhSWQyX.dpuf

Affiliated Faculty/Researchers

Michelle Bosquet, Ph.D. (contact Michelle Bosquet)

I received a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in developmental and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota. I have completed a fellowship in infant mental health and postdoctoral training in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress responses. I am primarily interested in understanding the ways in which children become vulnerable to developing mental health problems early in development. One specific area where I have focused is the study of the impact of maternal anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder on infant emotional and biological development. I am currently investigating associations between mothers' traumatic life experiences and mothers' and infants' abilities to regulate their emotions and their physiological responses to stress. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and other lab members, I am examining how infants of mothers with significant trauma histories may process emotions differently at the neural level than infants of mothers without a significant trauma history. I hope that the information from these studies will help us prevent the development of mental health problems in children.

Graduate Student Researchers

Laura Edwards (contact Laura Edwards)

I am a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.S. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from Yale University and subsequently worked in clinical psychology research for two years as part of the Yale Child Study Center’s Autism Program. I am interested in investigating the cognitive and brain development of typically and atypically developing children, in order to use this knowledge to construct developmentally appropriate educational curricula and interventions for individual learners, particularly those with developmental disabilities.

Research Assistants 

Frances Cooley (contact Frances Cooley)

I graduated in the spring of 2013 from the University of Rochester, with a double major in brain and cognitive science and American Sign Language. There, I worked in the autism lab and in a parent training clinic for parents of children with autism. I am happy to continue this work with ISP! After working in the LCN, I plan to pursue a PhD in developmental neuroscience. 

 

Perry Dinardo (contact Perry Dinardo)

I graduated from Duke University in the spring of 2014, with a B.A. in Psychology and minors in Chemistry and Theater Studies. As an undergraduate, I developed an interest in gene-environment interactions, and my independent study specifically investigated the effects of early childhood stress on IQ throughout the lifespan.  I am thrilled to be a part of the Nelson Lab and I am currently working on the Emotion Project, which examines the neural bases of emotion processing in early childhood. I love working with children, and hope to attend medical school in the future to become a pediatrician.

Kerri Downing (contact Kerri Downing)

I received a bachelors of arts in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience from the University of Connecticut. My honors thesis centered on the novelty and familiarity preferences of children with autism. Currently, I am a research assistant for the Infant Sibling Project, which is a longitudinal collaborative study between Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University. This study focuses on the development of infants siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves.

MaryKate Driscoll (contact MaryKate Driscoll)

I graduated from Harvard College in 2011 with a B.A. in Economics with honors, focusing on family economics and early intervention policy. As an undergraduate, I volunteered as a tutor and mentor with programs designed to address educational inequity through early intervention and served as a staff intern to the Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. My interest in early childhood development and intervention brought me to the Nelson Lab in 2012, where I began as a research assistant for a study investigating spatial memory development during the first three years of life in typically developing children. Currently, I am a clinical research assistant working

Jack Keller (contact Jack Keller)

I graduated from Tufts University in 2012 with a B.S. in Biopsychology.  During my time there I worked in a variety of labs: from the interpersonal communications and psychopharmacology labs at the university, to the Gabrieli and Feng labs in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at MIT.  After college, I worked at a specialized school for children with autism as well as in a cognitive neuroscience lab at MGH – I also took this time to finish up some prerequisites in a post-baccalaureate program.  Currently I am helping out with multiple studies in the Nelson lab with a focus on the ACE study, which aims to broaden our understanding of gender differences in autism.

Sarah McCormick (contact Sarah McCormick)

I graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2013 with a B.S. in Psychology and a concentration in Neuroscience. I am currently working on the emotion project, which is examining the development and neural bases of emotion processing across infancy and early childhood, from five months of age to three years of age. The current study uses a variety of methodologies to investigate emotion processing in 5 – 12 month old infants, including electrophysiology, near infrared spectroscopy, eye tracking, genetics, and physiological measures.

Affiliated Faculty/Researchers

Michelle Bosquet, Ph.D. (contact Michelle Bosquet)
I received a B.A. in psychology from Yale University and a Ph.D. in developmental and clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota. I have completed a fellowship in infant mental health and postdoctoral training in the assessment and treatment of traumatic stress responses. I am primarily interested in understanding the ways in which children become vulnerable to developing mental health problems early in development. One specific area where I have focused is the study of the impact of maternal anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder on infant emotional and biological development. I am currently investigating associations between mothers' traumatic life experiences and mothers' and infants' abilities to regulate their emotions and their physiological responses to stress. For example, in collaboration with Dr. Nelson and other lab members, I am examining how infants of mothers with significant trauma histories may process emotions differently at the neural level than infants of mothers without a significant trauma history. I hope that the information from these studies will help us prevent the development of mental health problems in children.

Christine Mrakotsky, Ph.D. (contact Christine Mrakotsky)Graduate Student Researchers

Laura Edwards (contact Laura Edwards)Research Assistants

Kerri Downing (contact Kerri Downing)Geneva DeGregorio (contact Geneva DeGregorio)

Vanessa Loukas (contact Vanessa Loukas)Stephanie Marshall (contact Stephanie Marshall)

Tessa Clarkson (contact Tessa Clarkson)Dana Bullister (contact Dana Bullister)

- See more at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research-and-innovation/research-labs/nelson-laboratory/meet-the-lab-members#sthash.SPhSWQyX.dpuf

Lina Montoya (contact Lina Montoya)


Technology and Training Specialist

Graham Holt (contact Graham Holt)

I received my bachelor’s degree in Earth and Environmental Science with a concentration in Physics from Whittier College (Whittier, CA) in 2001. I joined the technical support team at Electrical Geodesics, Inc. (Eugene, OR) in 2003 where I became familiar with cognitive neuroscience, technical training, dense array EEG and international travel. Through my career I have focused on the development, modification and delivery of technical training materials aimed at adult audiences ranging from undergraduates to private industry professionals to astronauts. I am currently pursuing a master’s degree in Instructional Design at the University of Massachusetts Boston to further develop my education and training development skills. I moved to the Boston area in 2010 with my wife and our cat. I joined Dr. Nelson’s lab in 2013 as the lab’s Technical and Training Specialist where I am responsible for training development, process optimization efforts, equipment maintenance, serve as the subject matter expert for technical systems and design, develop & fabricate scientific apparatus. 

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