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Students in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program can have an opportunity to work with world-renowned researchers and faculty members in groundbreaking research. This includes the department’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication group, led by leading researcher and faculty member, Janice Light.

As a student in the Communication Sciences and Disorders program, you will have the opportunity to assist faculty members with research projects, getting firsthand experience in a research environment. You may also collect data, listen to data samples, be involved in coding.


The Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Literacy (AAC-L) Lab (Dr. Jessica Caron) houses state of the art AAC technology designed to support individuals with complex communication needs. Video equipment and computers are also available and equipped for analyzing and editing video. Testing instruments for assessing language, communication, and literacy is also available. Research in the laboratory focuses on improving communication and literacy outcomes for individuals with a range of disabilities, including children, adolescents, and adults within the context of interventions within daily life. Specifically, the ongoing research projects in this laboratory are investigating implementation science related to: (a) improvement of literacy outcomes, (b) use of mainstream communication modalities (e.g., access to social media or mobile technology), and (c) enhancement of design and use of high tech communication methods.

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication and Developmental Disabilities Laboratory (Dr. Kathryn Drager) houses projects that seek to improve the lives of individuals with disabilities, specifically school-age children, adolescents, and adults with developmental disabilities, including autism. Studies in this laboratory also examine applications for individuals within low-resource communities, where technological solutions may not be readily available. In all contexts, research is ongoing investigating interventions within daily life. The lab is equipped with digital audio and video recording and editing capability.

The Orofacial Physiology and Perceptual Analysis (OPPAL) Laboratory (Dr. Nicole Etter) focuses on ways humans process and use sensory information for the purposes of speech production and feeding. OPPAL is home to a unique stimulus delivery system, custom designed to deliver tactile inputs to orofacial skin surface during simultaneous performance of visually guided behaviors in the lower face. We are interested in better understanding the relationship between sensation (auditory and orofacial somatosensation) and skilled movement behaviors used for speech production. We are analyzing how this relationship may be altered as a feature of healthy aging, neurologic disorders (stroke or traumatic brain injury), and/or lifestyle variables (smoking history, etc.). Additional work in the lab focuses on the use of technology and Engagement Theory for adults completing home-based motor speech interventions.

The Speech Production Laboratory (Dr. Ji Min Lee) houses projects that seek to understand why less comprehensible speech occurs by examining speech sound and tongue movement. The long term goal of the laboratory is to develop strategies to enhance speakers’ speech intelligibility (e.g., speakers with dysarthria). Research in this laboratory focuses on kinematic characteristics (with an emphasis on tongue movement) that influence speech intelligibility and acoustic variables in speakers with and without speech disorders. The Speech Production Laboratory is equipped with a portable 3 dimensional electromagnetic articulography (Wave system, Northern Digital Inc.). The system allows examining tongue movement with synchronized acoustic signals in a non-invasive and safe way.

The Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) Laboratory (Dr. Janice Light) houses a wide array of state of the art AAC assistive technology designed to meet the needs of individuals with significant communication disabilities. This assistive technology is used to support research, education of families and professionals, and service delivery to people with significant communication disabilities. The AAC labs also serve as a resource center for individuals who require AAC, their families, professionals, and Penn State students and faculty. The AAC Labs house all of the assistive technology, have digital audio and video recording and editing capability, and allow for meeting space.

The Research in Aging and Dysphagia (RAD) Lab (Dr. Aarthi Madhavan) attempts to mitigate or reduce the negative health consequences of dysphagia (swallowing disorders) in older adults. In working towards this goal, the lab will be focusing on improving assessment and screening of dysphagia in the elderly population; specifically in developing a screening tool for the early identification of swallowing difficulties in the community dwelling elderly population. This research involves close collaboration with clinicians and researchers in the fields of aging, nutrition, cognition, neuromotor abilities, and questionnaire and tool development.

The Child Language Development Laboratory (Dr. Carol Miller) focuses on typical and atypical language development in children and adults. The lab is equipped to collect high-quality analog and digital audio and video recordings. Necessary computer hardware and software is available for digitizing and editing audio as well as video. Several powerful statistical analysis software packages are used to meet a wide variety of research needs. Software for the analysis of language transcripts is also available. The lab is equipped with a number of instruments for assessment of language and cognition, and hardware and software for conducting computer-based experiments.

The Collaborative Language Use Lab (Dr. Anne Olmstead) conducts behavioral research examining the influence of social context on speech and language use and learning in adults. We focus on situations in which individuals are communicating across dialects or language groups. In collaboration with the Speech, Language and Cognition lab, we are examining how specific social/communicative imperatives drive flexibility in speech production and perception.

The Experimental Phonetics Lab (Dr. Michael Robb) focuses on acoustic, physiological, and phonetic features of normal and disordered speech production across the lifespan. We are engaged in international collaborations with researchers in Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, and Kuwait. Past and current research projects include (1) the influence of bilingualism and diglossia on normal and disfluent speech production, (2) the interaction of age and stuttering type on speech efficiency, (3) describing laryngeal-based phenomena in early vocal development among healthy and at-risk infants and (4) transgender voice and communication. Lab instrumentation includes acoustic analysis software, fNIRS system, acoustic pharyngometer, electromyographic and electrodermal analysis systems, and an electroglottograph.  

The SANDLab: Semantics, Aphasia, and Neural Dynamics Laboratory (Dr. Chaleece Sandberg) conducts behavioral and neuroimaging experiments to help uncover the neurophysiological changes underlying behavioral changes associated with successful therapy for language and cognition deficits in adults with acquired brain injury and to develop therapies that promote generalization and neuroplasticity. To this end, the lab utilizes fMRI and EEG imaging resources within the Social, Life, and Engineering sciences Imaging Center (SLEIC). The lab is equipped with the necessary hardware and software to conduct imaging and behavioral experiments and to analyze fMRI, EEG, and behavioral data, and with the necessary instruments to conduct in-depth assessments of language and cognition, including high quality video recordings.

The Speech, Language, and Cognition lab (Dr. Navin Viswanathan), studies the social and cognitive factors that shape spoken language use. The overarching question that we seek to answer is how human listeners demonstrate robust speech perception despite a highly variable speech signal (due to different speakers, dialects, listening environments etc.). We frequently collaborate with the Collaborative Language Use lab (Dr. Olmstead) to design studies to examine this question under typical conditions of spoken language use. In addition, we also work with other researchers at the Center for Language Science to tackle a broad range of related questions.

The Laboratory for the Study of Visual Supports in Communication and Education (Dr. Krista Wilkinson) houses a variety of projects that seek to improve the effectiveness of visual support used in communication intervention for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Many such children use visual schedules, calendars, or communication books that have pictures of upcoming activities, desired foods, friends, or favorite social activities. The studies in this laboratory examine how systematic consideration of the construction of these displays (placement and color of the symbols on the aid, for instance) might influence functional communication or learning outcomes. The research includes basic studies of visual processing conducted within the laboratory as well as applied instructional procedures embedded within storybook reading activities that take place in children’s homes or schools. Future planned studies include neuro-imaging studies that will allow us to examine brain responses to the visual communication symbols presented on the displays.

The Cognition and Language Learning Lab (Dr. Diane Williams) conducts behavioral and functional imaging projects investigating memory and language processing with an emphasis on children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Ongoing research in this lab includes analysis of data from neuropsychologic and linguistic measures investigating how individuals with ASD who are successful learners process information. New studies under development will use computer-based tasks that systematically vary the processing load during cognitive and linguistic processing to investigate factors that make learning more or less successful for children and adults with ASD. Other planned projects will investigate the process of verbal encoding and word retrieval in individuals with ASD using behavioral and functional imaging measures.