Nelson Laboratory | Meet the Lab Members

Principal Investigator

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

Alissa Westerlund Alissa Westerlund (contact Alissa Westerlund) I received my bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of North Dakota in 1997, and was hired as Dr. Nelson's Lab Coordinator in 1999. In my current role as Program Manager, I oversee the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience Research Program. The LCN is dedicated to furthering our understanding of brain and cognitive development in typically developing infants and children, as well as children diagnosed with or at risk for various developmental disorders. In my role as Program Manager, I oversee day-to-day operations, hiring and training of new and visiting research staff, and implementation of new research projects. 

Swapna Kumar, M.S. (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 which studies the effect of early adversities on cognitive development. 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. 

Lab Administrator

Katie Larin (contact Katie Larin) I graduated from the University of Michigan in 2015 with a degree in Organizational Studies, where I concentrated on healthcare and nonprofit organizations. I joined the LCN as the Administrative Associate in the fall of 2016 after completing a year of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. My interests lie in hospital and organizational culture and leadership, as well as improving patient and family experiences. I am thrilled to join Dr. Nelson’s Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience and to learn more about research administration and the many incredible projects happening in the lab.

Postdoctoral Researcher Fellows

Laurie Bayet Laurie Bayet, Ph.D. (contact Laurie Bayet )  I received a Ph. D. in Psychology from the University of Grenoble (France) in November 2015. My dissertation work examined the development of facial emotion perception in infants and children using behavioral and computational methods. I joined the LCN in 2015 as a postdoctoral fellow. My work concerns high-level perception development from infancy to adulthood, with an emphasis on face perception in infancy. I currently oversee a project that uses machine learning tools and neural data (EEG and fNIRS) to investigate word and object perception in the adult and developing brain. In addition I have been working on projects assessing the development of facial emotion perception in infancy using neural (EEG) and eye-tracking measures, and how experience affects neural responses to faces during visual search. 

Hannah Behrendt, M.A. (contact Hannah Behrendt)  I received my M.A. in Psychology from the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany in September 2013. Before joining the LCN, I completed my Ph.D. studies at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Psychosomatic and Psychotherapy at the University Hospital RWTH Aachen in Germany, studying the impact of maternal depression following childbirth on early mother-child interaction using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). In particular, my dissertation work focused on neural and behavioral mechanisms underlying emotion regulation and stress reactivity in infants (ages 6-8 months) and their first-time mothers. After working on the Emotion project as a Fulbright visiting researcher May to October 2016, I am very excited to be back. My current projects focus on understanding the development and neural bases of emotional face processing in infancy and early childhood. Specifically, I am interested in how dispositional and environmental, e.g. maternal, influences may shape typical/ atypical emotional development in the first three years of life.


Laurel Gabard-Durnam

Laurel Gabard-Durnam, Ph.D (contact Lauren Gabard-Durnam) I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from Columbia University in 2016 after completing my first 3 years of doctoral training in Developmental Psychology at UCLA. My doctoral work in Dr. Nim Tottenham’s lab (both at UCLA and Columbia) with functional magnetic resonance imaging sought to identify developmental sensitive periods when prefrontal cortex (PFC) circuit function is most robustly shaped by environmental input. I used functional connectivity approaches to examine how emotional stimuli like faces and music or prolonged experiences of early life stress become embedded in PFC circuit function across childhood and adolescence. I was delighted to return to the Nelson Lab as a postdoctoral fellow in 2016, having completed my undergraduate neurobiology thesis with Dr. Nelson. My current projects aim to quantify how experiences shape brain function by identifying electroencephalography (EEG)-based markers of sensitive period neuroplasticity in early sensory development. Through collaboration with Dr. Takao Hensch, I hope to translate neural markers of sensitive period plasticity from rodent to human visual and language development. I am investigating neuroplasticity dynamics in typically developing infants and also in several populations at risk for altered sensitive period neuroplasticity, including infants at risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder, infants with specific genetic mutations in pathways regulating sensitive period neuroplasticity, and infants with exposures to general anesthesia drugs known to impact sensitive period progression. Through these projects, I hope to provide mechanistic accounts of both typical and atypical experience-dependent neurodevelopment.

Sarah Jensen, Ph.D. (contact Sarah Jensen)  I joined the LCN in 2016 after receiving my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychopathology from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. In my PhD I examined how early experiences shape development throughout childhood and adolescence. I was particularly interested in how early life stress and psychosocial experiences (such as maternal depression) predicted variation in children’s cognitive functioning, mental health and brain structure. In the LCN I work as a postdoctoral research fellow in an ongoing study in which we use different neuroimaging tools (EEG, eye-tracking and fNIRS) and behavioral assessments to examine child development in children who grow up in a poor urban neighborhood in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am particularly interested in how different risks related to poverty, including both biological and psychosocial risks, affect child development and brain functioning.


Lara Pierce, Ph.D. (contact Lara Pierce)  I received my Ph.D. in Psychology from McGill University in 2015. My dissertation work used neuroimaging tools (e.g., fMRI) to explore the influence of very early language experience on later language processing. I was delighted to join the LCN as a postdoctoral research fellow in August 2015. In the LCN I use a variety of tools (e.g., EEG, eye-tracking, behavioural measures) to understand how the nature and timing of early experiences influence brain and behavioral development. I currently oversee a project that aims to identify biological and bio-behavioral markers of early stress exposure in infants. I also work on projects examining the effects of early adverse experience (e.g., institutional rearing) on neurodevelopmental trajectories, and whether deviations in neural responses to learning can act as early markers of neurodevelopmental disorder.


Carol Wilkinson, M.D., Ph.D (contact Carol Wilkinson)  I am a Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital and joined the LCN as a post-doctoral fellow in August 2017. I am interested in understanding how the neural mechanisms of learning and memory are impaired in children with neurodevelopment disorders, with the goal of diagnosing children earlier and developing more effective therapies. I completed my MD and PhD in Neuroscience at University of California San Francisco (UCSF). My graduate school work, under the mentorship of Steven Finkbeiner, MD, PhD, focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms of learning and memory through studying the function of activity-regulated-cytoskeletal-protein (Arc) in both primary neuronal culture and mouse models. After medical school, I completed my pediatric residency at UCSF and then came to Boston Children’s Hospital in 2014 to start my Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics Fellowship. I completed my fellowship in July 2017 and as a post-doctoral fellow in the LCN my project is focused on children with Fragile X Syndrome, a single-gene disorder associated with intellectual disability, language delays, and behavioral challenges including autism spectrum disorder. The project aims to use EEG to identify and characterize brain-based biomarkers that predict cognitive, language, and behavioral measures in children with Fragile X Syndrome.

Research Associates 

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 functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) 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, with a special focus on fNIRS. My projects include global applications of fNIRS with the Bangladesh project, studying emotional face processing in infancy and early childhood, and developing brain connectivity measures for fNIRS in infants and children. In July 2016 I transitioned to a Research Associate position overseeing and supporting all fNIRS projects in the Nelson Lab.



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

April Boin Choi, Ed.M.  (contact April Boin Choi) I am a PhD student in Human Development at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. I received a B.A. in Biological Sciences from Cornell University and an Ed.M. in Mind, Brain, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. My main research interests lie in investigating behavioral and neural development in infants at risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and early interventions that promote optimal developmental outcomes of children with or at risk for ASD. Currently in lab, I am working on the JASPER Project, which aims to examine the effects of early social communication intervention on children with tuberous sclerosis complex, who are at risk for developing ASD.


Cora Mukerji (contact Cora Mukerji) I am a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at Harvard University. I received my B.A. in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience track) from Yale University in 2011. As a research assistant in the McPartland Lab at the Yale Child Study Center, I worked on studies exploring brain-behavior relations in children with autism spectrum disorder and infants at high risk using EEG and event-related potentials. My dissertation work employs multiple neuroimaging tools (MRI, EEG, and DTI) to explore the neural underpinnings of social thought and function in typical and atypical child development.

Kate Roche (contact Kate Roche) I'm currently an M.D. student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. I joined the LCN in the Spring of 2015 during my first year of medical school. I received a B.S. in Biochemistry and a B.A. in Neuroscience from the University of Virginia in 2014 and studied the effects of adenosine-modulating compounds on dopamine release in the rat striatum while in undergrad. In the LCN, I work on our clinical team studying EEG markers of cortical function in girls with Rett syndrome. 




Research Assistants

Julia Cataldo (contact Julia Cataldo)
I graduated from Harvard College in May 2015 with a concentration in Neurobiology and Mind, Brain, and Behavior. I joined the LCN as a Student Intern with the Emotion Project in January 2014 and am so grateful to be continuing to work in lab as a Research Assistant after graduation. For my Senior Honors thesis, I investigated the development and neural bases of happy and angry facial processing across infancy using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) and eye tracking. I am currently helping out with several infant studies in the Nelson Lab. In particular, I am working on a study in collaboration with the University of Rochester that explores the developmental mechanisms of perception and language in the infant brain.

Meghan Colpas (contact Meghan Colpas)
I joined the Nelson Lab as a Research Assistant in June 2017 after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a B.A in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. As an undergraduate, I worked in the Learning Lab, a developmental psychology research lab that studies how children learn to control their behavior and emotions. For my senior thesis, I collaborated with the Parenting Across Cultures project, a longitudinal study in nine countries, and I investigated the impact of violence exposure on parenting and the mental health of youth in Kisumu, Kenya. I am excited to be joining the Emotion Project researching the neural bases of emotion processing in early development and working with the incredible staff and families through the LCN.

Anna Fasman (contact Anna Fasman) I graduated with honors from Cornell University in the spring of 2016 with a B.A. in Psychology. As an undergraduate, I began working with children in the Cornell B.A.B.Y. Lab, where I wrote my senior honors thesis about screen learning in infancy, focusing on the video learning deficit. I am so happy to be back in Boston where I grew up and to be a part of the Nelson Lab. I am currently working as a research assistant on the Emotion Project, which examines the neural bases of emotion processing in early childhood. I hope to one day go to medical school to become a pediatrician or OBGYN.

Jessica Gregory (contact Jessica Gregory) I graduated from Princeton University in 2016 with a B.A. in Psychology and a certificate in Neuroscience. As an undergrad, I worked in a computational neuroscience lab and completed my thesis work investigating the neural correlates of executive function in mouse models. This experience, combined with my previous work with individuals affected by Autism and Down Syndrome, has made me really excited to be a part of the research being done in the Nelson Lab. I am currently working as a research assistant on the Infant Screening Project. Through this study we aim to identify early biomarkers and developmental variants of infants at risk for developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder.


Rebecca Golden, M.A. (contact Rebecca Golden) I started working in the field of Developmental Disabilities as a Clinical Psychology student-
intern at the Boston Higashi School for Autism. Aftergraduating from Saint Anselm College with a major in Psychology and a minor in Neuroscience, I joined BHS full-time as the Assistant Clinician and was an active member of the Research and Clinical Teams. I earned a Master of Arts degree in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology from Boston College and acted as a Clinical Psychology Fellow in the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (LEND) program at Boston Children’s Hospital. Currently, I work as a Clinical Research Assistant in both the Nelson and Faja Labs. In my free time, I enjoy volunteering for Partners for Youth with Disabilities at Pappas Rehabilitation Hospital for Children.

Linnea Joffe-Nelson, M.A. (contact Linnea Joffe-Nelson) I graduated from Boston College with a Masters in Counseling Psychology where I was able to engage in both clinical work and as well as engage in research projects. My clinical work was focused on severe psychopathology in children and adolescents and my Master’s research focused on parent-child engagement in relation to the developmental of language and social communication in young children with ASD. I also worked in a lab focused on the development of critical reasoning skills among college students. In the Nelson Lab, I am the project coordinator the Infant Screening Project, which aims to map early development and identify infants who are at risk for developing Autism Spectrum Disorder.

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.

Morgan Overton (contact Morgan Overton)  I earned my Bachelor of Science in Psychology, with a minor in Studio Arts from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. During my time at Pitt, I was a Research Assistant in the Early Social Development Lab, which assessed the development of pro-social behavior in infants and toddlers through observational, play-based sessions. I also completed my Honors Thesis in the Pitt Early Autism Study under Dr. Mark Strauss, and utilized eye-tracking to investigate visual attention patterns to social scenes among infants at high and low genetic risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder. I am humbled to be contributing to the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials project between the Nelson and Faja labs. Ultimately, I hope to combine my passions of the brain and community advocacy to address child development in culturally diverse populations.

Emily Reilly (contact Emily Reilly)  I joined the Nelson Lab as a Research Assistant in June 2016 after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst with a B.S in Psychology and a minor in Nutrition. I had the pleasure of working in the Learning Lab and on the Work and Family Transitions Project during my time at Umass. For my thesis research, I investigated the interactive effects of social support and maternal mental health on child outcomes in a low-income population. I am delighted to join the Nelson Lab’s infant research team and work on both the Healthy Baby Study investigating the effects of early life stress on development and on the Words & Objects Study researching object processing and language development.

Aksheya Sridhar, M.A. (contact Aksheya Sridhar) I received my B.A. in Psychology, with a minor in Education from Clark University in 2014, where I assisted in multiple research studies examining motivational development and culture and development. Upon graduating, I worked as an Associate Behavior Therapist, providing in-home behavior therapy to young children with autism. Following that, I graduated with my M.A. in Psychology at Boston University in 2015. While at BU, I was a member of the Child and Family Health Lab, and assisted in research examining health disparities in access to autism-related services. I joined the LCN in June of 2016, and am currently a clinical research assistant, working in both the Nelson and Faja labs on the Autism Biomarkers Consortium for Clinical Trials project.

Viviane Valdes (contact Viviane Valdes )
I joined the LCN June 2017 as a project coordinator for a new study looking at the effects of Zika Virus infection on infant neurocognitive development in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Prior to working on this project, I received a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Global Health/Health Policy from Harvard University and a Master in Public Health in Epidemiology from New York University. I worked in the LCN from 2013-2014 as an undergraduate RA on the Pakistan project looking at nutritional/educational interventions and neurodevelopmental outcomes and I focused my graduate research on identifying risk factors for postpartum hemorrhage in Accra, Ghana. I am grateful to be back at the LCN and to contribute to research on infant development in a global health setting.

Annie Wedel (contact Annie Wedel) I graduated from Pomona College in 2016 with a B.A. in Neuroscience. During my time as an undergraduate, I worked in the Claremont Infant Study Center, where we examined the use of specific EEG measures to study infants' attention. While at Pomona, I had the opportunity to work with children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder in an after school program and I became interested in learning more about how neurophysiological measures can be used to study developmental disorders. I am excited to join the Infant Screening Project at the LCN, which seeks to identify risk markers of infants who are at risk for developing autism.

Technology and Training Specialist

Ann-Marie Barrett (contact Ann-Marie)I graduated from Harvard University in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a secondary degree in Visual and Environmental Studies. As an undergraduate, I assisted in research related to social cognition in children at high risk for psychosis. Before coming to the LCN, I spent a year at the University of Michigan working in the Lumeng-Miller as a research assistant for several studies examining the multiple factors that contribute to obesity in low-income children and intervention methods. I joined the Nelson Lab in June 2017, where I manage the data for the Bucharest Early Intervention Project, the Emotion Project, and the Bangladesh project.

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.