Bilingualism and Language Development Lab on display at national science fair

WASHINGTON -- The Bilingualism and Language Development (BiLD) Lab at Penn State recently represented the National Science Foundation (NSF) at the fourth annual USA Science and Engineering Festival, which took place April 15-17 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Larry Bock and Lockheed Martin, the USA Science & Engineering Festival — the nation’s largest science festival — was developed to ignite the next generation’s interest in considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). An estimated 350,000 people were expected to attend the three-day event, which featured nearly 3,000 hands-on activities and included a career pavilion where students could meet with scientists, representatives from leading universities and corporate recruiters to learn about internships, mentorships, scholarships, and after-school programs.

The BiLD Lab was one of only 26 NSF-supported projects, and one of the only two arts and humanities projects, to be selected to showcase its research in the NSF’s Exhibit Pavilion.  Researchers in the BiLD lab study the neurocognitive processes related to language development, second language learning, and bilinguals’ use of two languages, with a particular emphasis on language development and bilingualism at middle childhood and beyond.

“This festival gave us the unique opportunity to showcase how we conduct research on second language development and bilingualism using neuroscience techniques and highlight the value of interdisciplinary research by bridging neuroscience and humanities,” noted Janet van Hell, professor of psychology and linguistics, co-director of the Center for Language Science, and director of the BiLD Lab. “This was an excellent outreach opportunity to demonstrate the broader impact of research.

“The children were highly engaged and curious to learn more about the brain. Our team of all-female researchers (postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, with multi-cultural background) also reflected the diversity of the scientific community and showed these children that women are actively and successfully involved in STEM research.”

Visitors to the BiLD Lab’s booth had the opportunity to see their “Brain in Action.” The exhibit included live demonstrations of recordings of brain waves projected on-screen and assortment of fun and mind-boggling language and thinking games.  Children who visited the booth received a name tag with sound waves and their name spelled either in one of the languages spoken by one of the research team members — Farsi, Dutch, Spanish, German, French, English — or spelled phonetically.

“More than 1,000 children of all ages participated each day in activities in our Brain in Action booth and were introduced to neuroscience, language, and psychological research,” van Hell said. “The children at this festival were engaged, curious, and full of questions about language and the brain. They see themselves as scientists and were excited to be part of a big event where it is cool to be a nerd."

To learn more, please visit the BiLD Lab’s website or Facebook page.

Last Updated April 22, 2016