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Former Lab Members

Vanessa Vogel-Farley

Vanessa is a former clinical research coordinator at the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience, at Boston Children's Hospital. She received her bachelor’s in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota twin cities. Her research interests include early brain development and early identification of autism.

Ross Vanderwert, Ph.D. 

I received my Ph.D. in Developmental Science from the University of Maryland and joined the LCN in October 2012. My research interest is in understanding how early social experiences shape early brain development. My doctoral work focused on the neural correlates of action observation and execution and how social interactions may shape the development of premotor and somatosensory areas in both human and non-human primate models. During my postdoc, I will continue to examine the role of early social experience in brain development and expand my repertoire of neuroimaging techniques. I aim to better understand the changes in infants’ processing of emotional face expressions over the first year and how those changes may be mediated by their social interactions with their mother. To this end, I will be using a multi-method approach that includes eye tracking, autonomic nervous system responses, electroencephalogram and event-related potentials (EEG and ERP), and Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) data.

Brandon Keehn. Ph.D

I received my Ph.D. from the San Diego State University / University of California, San Diego Joint Doctoral Program in Language and Communicative Disorders in the summer of 2011 and subsequently joined the LCN as a postdoctoral fellow. My graduate work employed a multimodal (fMRI, EEG, eye-tracking) approach to understanding attentional strengths and weaknesses and their neurofunctional underpinnings in school-age children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At the LCN, I plan to extend my investigation of attention to infants and toddlers at risk for ASD. The aim of this research is to provide insight into how early impairments in attention impact the development of higher-level social and communicative abilities in children with ASD. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to identify behavioral and biological markers to assist in making an earlier diagnosis of ASD and to determine potential targets for early intervention.

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.

Nicole Coman

I received my Ed.S. in School Psychology from Florida International University in Miami, FL and a M.S. Ed. from Duquense University in Pittsburgh, PA. I joined the Nelson Lab in May of 2012 after moving from Miami, Florida. Previously, I had worked at the University of Miami for the past 7 years coordinating various research projects focused on autism spectrum disorders. Additionally, I had the privilege of working with various families and individuals affected by autism spectrum disorders at the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) at the University of Miami.  Currently, I am the Clinical Research Coordinator 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 infant siblings of children who are affected with autism and language delays and are therefore at a higher risk of developing these disorders themselves. Additionally, I am coordinating a multisite Autism Center of Excellence (ACE) Network project in collaboration with Yale University, University of Washington, and UCLA investigating the sex-specific differences in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The purpose of the study is to identify sex differences and to further understand the heterogeneity in brain structure, function, connectivity, and genetics in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Adeline Jabes, Ph.D. 

I joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in February 2011 after receiving my Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland. My graduate work focused on the structural development of the monkey hippocampal formation, a medial temporal lobe (MTL) structure that is essential for memory. Following from this work, I have now put forward several hypotheses about the emergence of memory functions in human infants. During my postdoc, I will investigate the emergence of spatial memory during infancy and the maturation of the specific MTL circuits that subserve this function. Using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques, I aim to establish links between brain maturation and behavioral development in order to better understand the emergence of human memory. Further, such study will also give fundamental information about infant’s memory performance that might become useful tool for detecting early signs of memory impairments in children at risk for MTL pathologies such as epilepsy, autism, or hypoxic-ischemic injury. Finally, I will also be involved in a study of children born following a diabetic pregnancy, using behavioral and neuroimaging methods, to assess the outcomes related to this altered fetal environment.

Lina Montoya 

I graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2012 with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Applied Math and Statistics. I am currently working on the emotion project, which examines the development and neural bases of emotion processing. This project uses a variety of methodologies to investigate emotion processing in 5 – 10 month old infants, includingeye tracking, electrophysiology, near infrared spectroscopy, genetics, and physiological measures.

Rhiannon Luyster, Ph.D.

I received my PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Michigan and joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in September, 2009. My graduate work focused on early development in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), with a particular emphasis on social communication and language development. In general, I am interested in using our knowledge of typical development to better understand which features of ASD are core components and which are sequelae of disrupted early development. During my time at the LCN, I plan to explore the ways in which the brain and behavior are related in young children. I am currently looking at the relationship between visual attention and face processing in children with typical development and children with ASD, using eye-tracking and ERP. These investigations will help disentangle the effects of developmental disorder versus individual differences in development, and my hope is that they will lead to targets for early intervention.

Sharon Fox, M.D., Ph.D.

I graduated in June of 2008 with an MD from Harvard Medical School, and received my PhD in Medical Engineering through Harvard-MIT's Health Sciences and Technology Department in February of 2012. My dissertation work was conducted in the LCN, and focused upon 6-7-month-old infants in the Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) portion of the Infant Sibling Project. I worked to identify regions of the brain responsive to face stimuli in infants using NIRS, and then examined the effects of specific facial characteristics on the NIRS response in both typically developing infants and those at high risk for developing autism spectrum disorders. My current interests involve a wide range of applications of imaging to the early detection of disease, and my work in the lab focuses on a continuation of my previous projects, as well as new applications of NIRS to the study of infant development.

Kristin Concannon, M.A.

I joined the LCN as Research Coordinator for the Infant Sibling Project (ISP). The ISP is a collaborative project between Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University studying the development of language, social and communication skills in infants from 3 to 36 months. My previous research experience includes serving as lab manager for the Health and Psychophysiology Lab at Harvard University. I have my masters in Mental Health Counseling from Boston College and studied Child Development at Vanderbilt University as an undergraduate.

Sonya Troller-Renfree

I received a B.A. with honors in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Wisconsin- Madison in 2010. As a research assistant, I am currently involved in a large-scale study that examines the role of early experience in the development of face processing. More specifically, this study will strive to chart the course of perceptual narrowing in infants. Additionally, it will explore the breadth of an infant's perceptual window through discrimination tasks in categories such as age, species, gender, and race.


Adrienne Tierney; M.Sc, Ed.M., Ph.D.

I am currently a doctoral student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received my B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior from Wesleyan University, my M.Sc. in Neuroscience from Universitity Paris VI, and my Ed.M. in Mind, Brain and Education from Harvard's School of Education. My research interests are in the relationship among biological, cognitive, and social development particularly as they relate to development in children with autism. For my dissertation, I will be working with Dr. Nelson on understanding how genetic, neural, and cognitive information together help explain aspects development in autism.


Christine Motley

I am an EdM candidate in Human Development and Psychology at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I received a B.A. with honors in Psychology and a minor in Spanish from Smith College in 2008. I became a graduate student intern in the LCN to gain a better understanding of how the tools of a developmental cognitive neuroscientist are being applied to the study of typical and atypical cognitive development. Currently, I am involved in multiple studies including examining memory and attention in infants with hypoxic-ischemic injury, facial processing in infants at high risk for autism, as well as looking at an infants’ understanding of numbers and quantity by learning the administration and data analysis methods of various neurological tools.


Suzanna Hirsch

I graduated from Wesleyan University in 2010 with a B.A. in Neuroscience and Behavior. I first joined the Nelson Lab in the summer of 2009, when I worked on a pilot study examining pattern learning in typically-developing children and children with autism. My write-up of the data from that study was accepted as my undergraduate senior honors thesis. Currently, I am working as a research assistant on multiple studies that are using ERP and eye-tracking measures to examine brain development from infancy through adolescence. Specifically, these studies are looking at the processing of social stimuli in children and adolescents with autism, face processing in infants with tuberous sclerosis complex, and memory development in infants who spent time in the NICU due to oxygen deprivation.


Giulia Righi, Ph.D.

I received my PhD in Cognitive Sciences from Brown University in the summer of 2009, and joined the LCN lab in September 2009 as a post-doctoral fellow. In graduate school I used a cognitive neuroscience perspective to study face processing and executive function in adults. As a post-doc, my work will focus primarily on understanding how face processing changes through development, from infancy to adulthood. In particular, I am interested in understanding how the neural systems involved in recognizing faces mature with age, and how these changes relate to observable behaviors across development.

Margaret Sheridan

Please visit the Sheridan Lab here.

I received my PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in December, 2008 in psychology with an emphasis in clinical psychology. I attended internship at NYU Child Study Center/Bellevue Hospital 2006-2007. My general interest area is in the environmental variables which effect the development of the brain generally and frontal-striatal systems specifically. My graduate research focused on the neural correlates of working memory and inhibition in adolescents with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder as measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While at Berkeley I also examined the neural correlates of learning in children raised in different socioeconomic status environments using fMRI. As a post doctoral researcher in the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscienc I plan to continue this cross-disciplinary investigation into the effect of environmental variables on brain development. I am currently running studies which examine stress, learning, and memory in children ages 8-12 years. My hope is to discover changes in neurobiology which may mediate the relationship between social variables, stress, and health outcomes.


Tara Augenstein 

I graduated from Wellesley College with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology with a minor in music. Currently at Dr. Nelson's lab, my research is focused on the Infant Sibling Project, a collaborative longitudinal study between Boston University and Boston Children's Hospital. We will be working with infants who are at an increased risk for autism spectrum disorder or language impairment. Specifically, we will be using both ERP and eye tracking data to identify signs of language or communication problems.


Eliza Congdon

I received an Sc.B. in Neuroscience from Brown University in the spring of 2008. My time in the Nelson Lab began in the summer of 2007, when I began working with data from a longitudinal study concerning the long-term cognitive effects of early iron deficiency on Chilean school-aged children. The completed paper was accepted as my undergraduate honors thesis. As a research assistant, I am currently involved in a large-scale study that examines the role of early experience in the development of face processing. More specifically, this study will strive to chart the course of perceptual narrowing in infants. Additionally, it will explore the breadth of an infant's perceptual window through discrimination tasks in categories such as age, species, gender, and race.

Ben Balas, Ph.D.

I am a post-doctoral researcher in the Nelson Lab, having received both an S.B. degree (2002) and a Ph. D. (2007) from MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Science. I am generally interested in high-level recognition skills in adults and infants, with an emphasis on face recognition. My work to date has been focused on integrating computer vision models with visual psychophysics, a strategy I hope to keep pursuing while studying the development of face and object expertise with Dr. Nelson. In particular, I am interested in contributing to our understanding of the nature of "perceptual narrowing" over the course of visual development.


Jelena Spasovic

I obtained my B.A. in psychology from Mount Holyoke College, where I developed a strong interest in clinical and developmental child psychology. I was privileged to become a member of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience in December 2007. I am currently involved in two research studies that are designed to investigate emotional reactivity and regulation in infants and preschool-aged children. Specifically, the aim of the studies are to ascertain whether children who are at increased risk for developing anxiety difficulties process emotional expressions differently from children who are at low risk for anxiety difficulties.

Anne Rifkin, Ph.D.

I received a B.A. in psychology from Georgetown University, and an M.A. and Ph.D in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. I am primarily interested in the impact of non-optimal-but not necessarily extreme-experience on the brain. In my dissertation I examined the impact of subtle differences in early relationships with parents on subtle changes in stress hormones (i.e., cortisol) and cognitive functions known to be impacted by stress (e.g., memory and executive functioning). As a post-doc in the Nelson laboratory, and in collaboration with researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I have broadened my research interests to also consider the effects of other individual differences and corresponding fluctuations in hormones on these same cognitive functions. Using ERP and behavioral techniques, I am currently investigating the role of leptin, a hormone that varies by body fat and nutrition, on memory and executive function.


Kristin Shutts, Ph.D.

I joined the Nelson lab as a post-doctoral fellow in September 2006 after receiving my Ph.D. in developmental psychology from Harvard University in 2006. My main line of research concerns the development of social cognition, in particular how infants and children come to think of themselves and others members of different social categories ( e.g., gender, race, age), and how this changes over the course of development. To study these questions, I use a combination of behavioral, psychophysiological (e.g., heart rate), and neuroscience (e.g., ERP) methods.

Joseph McCleery, Ph.D.

I received a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers University, Camden, and both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, San Diego. My primary research interest is to elucidate the neural and behavioral mechanisms that underlie both typical and atypical social-emotional and social-communicative development. Much of my research has focused on young children who have been diagnosed with autism, as well as infants who are at high risk for developing autism. One of the long-term goals of this research is to use the information gathered from a neuroscience perspective to develop interventions for infants and children who are at risk for social-emotional and social-communicative difficulties. I joined Dr. Nelson's laboratory in June of 2007, with support from the Cure Autism Now Foundation to conduct research on the relationship between atypical face processing and social-emotional functioning in young children with autism.


Katherine Hung

I received my bachelor's degree in Brain and Cognitive Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2006 and am currently working as a research study assistant in Dr. Nelson's lab. My research will be focused on studying the role of early experience in face processing. More specifically, we will be examining the course of perceptual narrowing in infants and the effects of training and experience on development. Furthermore, we are interested in determining the breadth of the perceptual window by examining discrimination of various categories of faces such as species, gender, and age.

Maria Fusaro

I am a doctoral student at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, and joined the lab to learn more about brain-based approaches to the study of cognitive development. I received a B.A. in Education (Human Development) from Brown University, and an M.A. in Mind, Brain, and Education from Harvard's Education School. My research interests are in the development of social-cognitive skills, from infancy through the preschool years. Using behavioral and electrophysiological techniques, I am examining how non-verbal cues of agreement and disagreement (e.g., head nodding and shaking) shape the way children process information. Four-year-olds are eligible to participate in this study of the neural correlates of non-verbal cue processing.

Margaret Mouson Ph.D

I had the privilege of spending four years in the Nelson lab as a graduate student, and received my PhD from the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota in August, 2007. I am currently a postdoctoral associate in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and continue to collaborate with Dr. Nelson and other lab members on a variety of projects. I am primarily interested in the development of social perception in infancy; much of my research focuses on the development of face perception and the role that early experiences play in shaping face processing skills over the course of development. I use both behavioral and electrophysiological (e.g., ERP) methods to investigate questions in this area.

Jenny Richmond Ph.D

I am a post doc in the lab and joined the Nelson lab a year ago after graduating with my PhD in Psychology from the University of Otago in New Zealand. My research investigates how brain development contributes to memory development during infancy. Much of my thesis work focused on visual paired-comparison (VPC) performance in adults and the interpretation of novelty and null preferences. I am excited to continue this work on the McDonnell project, using ERPs and eye tracking to look at the neural basis of visual preferences in infants. In addition, I am interested in the neural basis of age-related changes in memory flexibility and the role that context plays in infants memory retrieval.

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