Year in Review: I-LABS Most Popular News of 2015

Between a steady stream of published research studies, public speaking engagements locally and around the world, and new national accolades—it's been another record year for I-LABS scientists and outreach staff.

Looking back at 2015, here are the discoveries and other accomplishments that received the most attention. Click the links to learn more!

January: New Year, New National Recognition

What goes on in the baby brain? National Geographic published "The First Year" and I-LABS co-director Patricia Kuhl took center stage in their accompanying video "How Does a Baby's Brain Work?", explaining to viewers why a baby's brain holds the key to what it means to be human.

Sarah Lytle, I-LABS outreach director, received a national fellowship from Zero to Three. The award provides training opportunities enabling the fellows to expand their work with children and families.

February: Women and Tech, Babies and Bath Time

Two new I-LABS studies about computer science stereotypes revealed ways to narrow the persistent gender gap in computer science, a well-documented disparity in a field with ample well-paid job opportunities.

Daily rituals like bath time can be turned into opportunities to promote children's development. This was the theme for a New York City event featuring Andrew Meltzoff, I-LABS co-director. "You notice that they’re doing little science experiments in the bath tub trying to figure out how the world works," Meltzoff said in U.S. News & World Report.

March: 'Madness' with Conferences and Awards

Notable national conferences dominated the month of March for I-LABS scientists and outreach staff alike.

A first for I-LABS, outreach director Lytle attended the well-known South By Southwest Edu (SXSWedu) conference and gave one of the few presentations on early learning. Her talk "Brain Science and Early Learning" became popular on Twitter with the hashtag #babybrains. Look for Lytle at SXSWedu 2016 when she'll give the talk, "Tots and TVs: Children's Learning from Screens."

In mid-March the halls of I-LABS experienced something unusual: quietness. At least temporary quietness as many of the Institute's researchers traveled to Philadelphia to present new findings at the Society for Child Development Research conference.

And it wouldn't be March with the annual Brain Awareness Week, which the outreach team commemorated with hands-on activities at a UW event.

Wrapping up the month, Kuhl and Ping Mamiya, an I-LABS research scientist, presented new research on the genetics of learning and received awards at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting. Kuhl, upon being awarded the prestigious George A. Miller Prize, one of the top awards in her field, discussed what the "next great question" is for her lab (hint: genetics!).

April: Early Learning Science Reaches Millions

Reaching millions of viewers, the largest Hispanic television network Univision showcased I-LABS co-directors Kuhl and Meltzoff during a primetime broadcast "El mejor recurso educativo para los niños" ("The best education resource for children").

Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, an I-LABS postdoctoral researcher, published new findings on how synchronous activity helped 8-year-olds feel more similar to each other. She discussed the implications of her work with KUOW.

Meanwhile, the I-LABS outreach team went "on tour" and gave the opening plenary at each of the 6 training meetings for new Early Head Start Child Care Partnership grant recipients. Funded by the Administration for Children and Families, these grants unite early childhood educators around the country.

May: Tots and the Invisible World, Collecting Data at a Museum

The month of May blossomed with new studies published by Meltzoff and colleagues revealing what toddlers and preschoolers understand about the invisible properties of sound and weight. The findings suggest that young children are capable of learning about more sophisticated entities than previously believed.

The I-LABS researchers set up a "Living Laboratory" at KidsQuest Museum in Bellevue, WA where they showed families research in action by collecting data with a computer-based test that gauges stereotypes. Stay tuned for additional Living Laboratory exhibits in 2016.

Finally, the Smithsonian magazine published the story "The Many Ways Baby Talk Gives Infant Brains a Boost," which featured Kuhl and quickly became one of the Institute's most popular Facebook posts of the year.

June: A Notable Retirement, New Fellowship, Brain Mapping

This month saw not just the end of an academic quarter, but more notably the end of an era with Craig Harris as the manager of the Meltzoff lab. He retired after 37 years working with Meltzoff. His colleagues gave him a touching send-off and Harris discussed highlights of his career at UW.

With funding from The Hearst Foundations the outreach team launched a new fellowship to support researchers who want to communicate their research discoveries with the public.

And, about a dozen I-LABS researchers decamped to Hawaii to present discoveries at the Human Brain Mapping Conference, the world's largest gathering of brain-imaging scientists.

July: Social Skills and Baby Brains, Interns at I-LABS

Garnering headlines around the world, a new study by I-LABS researchers revealed that babies' brains show that a behavior called eye gaze is linked to greater second language learning. This means that infants' social skills play a role in "cracking the code" in learning language, Kuhl told the Washington Post.

Speaking of roles, six savvy students joined I-LABS to take on the role of "intern." In a newly-expanded program, the I-LABS outreach team led the interns through a "boot camp" for budding scientists.

August: An MEG Anniversary, Bilingualism as a Treatment

It's been five years since I-LABS opened its MEG (magnetoencephalography) facility in 2010. The Institute shared highlights of MEG milestones and accomplishments so far--with much more coming in 2016!

Could learning a second language be a useful treatment for impulsive behaviors? Perhaps, according to a newly-launched research project by I-LABS graduate student Jose Ceballos, whose Q&A about the project is one of I-LABS' most popular Facebook posts of the year.

September: Body Maps, Stereotypes, and Brain-to-Brain

As the fall quarter began, three significant research studies received significant attention the world over.

Meltzoff and collaborators had the cover story of the prestigious journal "Trends in Cognitive Sciences" for a paper showcasing a new area of infant neuroscience: body maps. In the Wall Street Journal, Meltzoff explained how the work relates to his pioneering studies on infant imitation.

New I-LABS research papers about children's and adolescents' beliefs about math and computer science revealed insights in how stereotypes affect who is attracted to those disciplines. "The first step is to show girls they belong," Allison Master, a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute, wrote in TIME.

And, attracting massive media attention, the I-LABS "brain-to-brain" communication team demonstrated another important step in this futuristic technology: the direct exchange of information between two human brains. "I am the first person in the world to receive a tiny piece of information to come straight from another person's brain," I-LABS faculty member Andrea Stocco told CNN, who filmed a reenactment of the research.

October: $2.5 Million for I-LABS Outreach

The I-LABS outreach team received exciting news that it received $2.5 million in federal funding to expand its work with families and caregivers. I-LABS will share more news of this important endeavor as the National Center for Early Childhood Development, Teaching, and Learning gets up-and-running!

Mark Wronkiewiz, a graduate student working with I-LABS faculty member Adrian KC Lee, discovered a way to make brain-computer interfaces more practical for treating brain injuries from stroke, spinal cord injuries and other brain-related disorders.

Also in October, I-LABS celebrated UW's announcement of Ana Mari Cauce as its president, making her the first woman and the first Latina to be named to the position.

November: Self-Esteem Discovery, Baby Talk in 'Scientific American'

In one of the most popular discoveries of the year, I-LABS researchers reported that children's sense of self-esteem is already established by age 5. Lead author Dario Cvencek said, " Our work provides the earliest glimpse to date of how preschoolers sense their selves."

The November issue of Scientific American showcased I-LABS research in a feature "Baby Talk," written by Kuhl. You can purchase a digital copy online.

December: Robot 'Learning,' Reaching Thousands at National Conference

Learning by imitation is babies' "secret sauce for innovation," said Meltzoff. Now a new research study by I-LABS and computer scientist collaborators shows that robots can be programmed to 'learn' through demonstration. This could lead to robots learning to do tasks—including household chores!—just by watching someone else.

Thousands of early childhood educators and others attended a science plenary given by Meltzoff and Kuhl at the National Training Institute, convened by the national non-profit Zero to Three. I-LABS outreach staff also presented their work communicating child development research to parents, caregivers and others.

Coming soon

We have much more in store for 2016. Be sure to follow I-LABS on Facebook and Twitter to receive our updates. You can also subscribe to the quarterly I-LABS Outreach newsletter. Best wishes to you in the New Year!