Principal Investigator

Elizabeth Norton, Ph.D.

I am the Jane Steiner Hoffman and Michael Hoffman assistant professor in the department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Northwestern University. My research focuses on understanding typical reading and language development as well as developmental and learning disabilities, including dyslexia, developmental language disorder, and autism spectrum disorders. My lab uses different types of brain imaging, such as MRI and EEG/ERP, in combination with behavioral measures to address these questions. I am particularly interested in how combining behavior with brain imaging might help us to identify children who are at risk for these disorders earlier than traditional behavioral methods would allow, so that earlier intervention can be provided. I am also working to bring our neuroscience tools to more “real world” contexts, such as the NICU for preterm infants or to assess parents and toddlers brains as they play together.

Our collaborative work at Northwestern brings this approach of brain-behavior integration to earlier identification of language and neurodevelopmental problems in different domains: infants born preterm or with prenatal exposures, and children at risk for mental health or behavior problems.

I am also committed to bridging neuroscience research to educational and applied settings. I have worked with schools, community groups, and policy makers such as Decoding Dyslexia, Everyone Reading Illinois, Landmark School, and the Illinois State Board of Education to improve awareness of reading and language disorders and advocate for policy changes that make our educational and clinical practices consistent with current research.

At Northwestern, I am an active member of the Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences (DevSci) and co-director of the DevSci Neurodevelopmental Resource Core.  I am the director of undergraduate studies in the CSD department. I mentor doctoral students through the PhD in Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Northwestern Interdisciplinary Neuroscience (NUIN) Program.

I obtained my B.A. in Language and Brain Development at Dartmouth College and my Ph.D. at Tufts University in Child Study and Human Development. I completed my postdoctoral training in the Gabrieli Lab at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT.

Outside of the lab, some of my favorite things are cooking, the Red Sox, vintage watches, New England mountains, nitro cold brew, dresses with pockets, and live music.

Email enorton at

See my CV (PDF, updated August 2020)

Lab members

Ashley Nielsen, PhD, Postdoctoral fellow
I am a postdoctoral research fellow studying baby brain development with MRI. I received my B.S. in Bioengineering with a minor in Neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh. I completed my Ph.D. in Neuroscience at Washington University in St. Louis, focusing on the typical and atypical development of the brain’s functional network architecture. I am interested in investigating the development of large-scale brain organization and its relation to emerging cognitive abilities such as language and self-regulation. I use an array of brain imaging (functional, structural, and diffusion MRI) and computational (e.g., machine learning) tools to study the complex and widespread changes in brain structure and function that occur in early in life. Specifically, my research seeks to understand how biological and environmental factors influence the development of brain organization and whether atypical brain organization in infancy can indicate vulnerability to language or mental health problems later in life.

Brittany Manning, MS, CCC-SLP, PhD candidate
I am a PhD student in Northwestern University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. Previously, I completed both BA (2010) and MS degrees (2012) in Communicative Disorders at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests lie in studying language and literacy development, with a focus on cognitive processing, social skills, and language environment. From 2012 to 2016, I practiced as a speech-language pathologist, working closely with Chicago area schools. In my research, I aim to answer clinically relevant questions in children with specific language impairment, dyslexia, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.

Sean McWeeny, PhD candidate
I am a PhD student in Communication Sciences & Disorders. I received my B.S. in Psychology and Music from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before moving to Chicago, I taught piano to toddlers and worked with adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability in a vocational and residential setting. I am interested in how we can better predict who will go on to develop a developmental disorder, whether that be developmental dyslexia, specific language impairment, or ASD. I also have a strong interest in psychometrics as it relates to early detection of developmental disorders. Outside the lab, I love to play music and bike around the city.

Jinnie Choi, MA, PhD student
I am a PhD student in Communication Sciences and Disorders. I earned my BA in Korean Language and Literature and MA in Communication Disorders at Ewha Womans University in Korea. Before coming to Chicago, I practiced as a speech-language pathologist in Korea. I am interested in the development of the phonological processing ability of children. Specifically, I plan to focus on how that ability predicts reading and writing in school-age children and to understand overlapping abilities in different languages. My aim is to find precursors of dyslexia and developmental language disorders using neurological and behavioral methods. I love spending time with my beloved people and experiencing new activities.

Julia Nikolaeva, PhD student
I am a PhD student the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department. I completed my BS in Psychology with a minor in English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Following my undergraduate, I worked as a research assistant at the Laboratories of Cognitive Neuroscience at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. Across these experiences, I became curious about identifying early brain differences in developmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorder. Importantly, my research is motivated by how we can use early detection of brain differences to better predict developmental trajectories and select specialized interventions. I am thrilled to join Dr. Elizabeth Norton and the LEARN Lab to continue in this area of research.

Hudi Licht, PhD Student

Nathalie Diaz-Lopez, Undergraduate

Gabi Leibowitz, Undergraduate

Natalia Kolek, Undergraduate

Winnie Liang, Undergraduate
I am an undergraduate majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders on the pre-med track. I was raised in Chicago, IL with four younger siblings, speaking both English and Cantonese. This is where my interest in language, communication, and child development originated. Outside of the lab, I tutor elementary school students through the America Reads program and am pursuing a minor in dance, dancing anywhere I can along the way.

Meakailyn Phillips, Undergraduate
I am an undergraduate student majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with an interest in a minor in Psychology and Linguistics. Growing up with a younger brother with autism, I was introduced to the field of Speech-Language Pathology at a young age. I was inspired to study language, speech, and communication disorders with the goal of becoming a speech therapist in the future, after noticing the life-long impacts that speech therapy had on my brother. I’m very excited to be working in LEARN Lab because it gives me the opportunity to do hands-on research and gain experience in the field as an undergraduate. Outside of the lab, I enjoy dancing, going to new restaurants, listening to music, and spending time with friends and family.

Smitha Ramesh, Undergraduate
I am an undergraduate student majoring in Psychology on the pre-med track. My interests in language, speech, and communication disorders originated while working in my high school’s Special Education Department. The LEARN Lab gives me the opportunity to dive into research and help both children and their families navigate language and learning problems. Outside of the lab, I love singing, working out, listening to music, and spending time with my family and friends.

Tessneem Shahbandar, Undergraduate


Ola Wicko, Undergraduate
I am an undergraduate student majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with minors in Spanish and Psychology. I owe my interest in language development and communication disorders to my nephew who has autism; he introduced me to this field when I would tag along with him for his speech therapy sessions. Working in the lab has given me the opportunity to boost my phonetic ear through completing child language transcriptions, as well as allowing me to interact with participants and collect data through video chat! Outside of the lab, I love to exercise, read books, watch Polish soap operas with my mom, and hang out with my little niece and nephew. In the future, I hope to become a pediatric speech-language pathologist and help children just like my nephew reach their full potential! 


Collaborators and Affiliations

Northwestern Center for Audiology, Speech, Language and Learning Clinic

Northwestern Institute for Innovations in Developmental Sciences

Molly Losh, Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Lab, Northwestern

Megan Roberts, Early Intervention Research Project, Northwestern

Laurie Wakschlag, Developmental Mechanisms Group/DevSci, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine

Sandra Waxman, Infant and Child Development Center, Northwestern

Pamela Hadley, University of Illinois


Lab Alumni 


Emma Baime, MS-SLL ’19, Undergraduate ’18, 
Current speech-language provider/early interventionist
I’ve always been fascinated by language, and I love learning more about how humans communicate with others. The LEARN Lab has taught me so much, not only about language development, but also about what it’s like to answer questions through research. Outside of the lab, I can be found performing with my a cappella group, knitting, or spending time with friends.

Cadence Bippen, Undergraduate ’20, Current SLP assistant
Major: Human communication sciences. I have loved the opportunity to learn so much about research and lab work. I am planning to pursue a Minor in Spanish, and would love to, one day, serve both English- and Spanish-speaking children. Outside of the lab, I mentor elementary-age girls in the Evanston area, and I enjoy listening to music and watching/participating in theatrical performances.

Maggie Boland, MS-SLL ’19, Current speech-language pathologist
I was raised in the western suburbs of Chicago and completed my Bachelor’s degree in Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. The growing fields of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, as well as how research stemming from these fields informs clinical practice, interests me greatly. In my free time, I enjoy singing (both onstage and in the shower) and perfecting my family’s Italian meatball recipe.

Sara Brown, MS-SLL ’17, Current speech-language pathologist
I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I completed my undergraduate degree in Speech and Hearing Sciences at Indiana University in Bloomington. During my time at Northwestern, I have developed a specific interest in language intervention in the pediatric population. Outside of academics I enjoy running along the lake shore path, watching Netflix documentaries, exploring Chicago, and drinking sweet tea.

June Choe, Undergraduate ’20,
Current PhD student in Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania
Major: Linguistics. I am interested in studying experimental syntax, specifically the cognitive mechanisms behind real-time sentence processing. In the lab, I am involved in meta-analysis research on language development and in developing a database search tool for researchers. Through this experience, I have been able to expand on my theoretical training and learn more about the research in the diagnosis and intervention of developmental disorders. I plan to continue pursuing my research interests in graduate school, focusing on psycholinguistics and quantitative methods.

Silvia Clement-Lam, PhD ’19, Current postdoc, University of Connecticut
Before coming to Northwestern, I did my undergraduate and masters studies in Psychology in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. My research interests lie in two main areas: understanding factors that contribute to children’s literacy development in English and Chinese, and examining the importance of different sensory domains such as auditory, motor, and visual in literacy development. I am also broadly interested in using neuroimaging techniques in understanding children’s brain development in relation to literacy acquisition. In my free time, I love doing yoga, cooking with friends, traveling with my backpack, painting, and reading (non-research papers).

Kiera Cook, MS-SLL ’18, Research Assistant, 
Current speech-language pathologist
I grew up in Woodland Hills, Utah and completed my undergraduate degree in Communication Disorders at Brigham Young University. My background is in the nonprofit sector as part of a national initiative to eliminate poverty. I have a special interest in language-based learning disorders and their neurological etiologies and treatments. When I am not in the lab or in the clinic, I love to go on last-minute road trips and train for my someday triathlon.

Alexandra Harpole, Full time research assistant, MS-SLL ’20, Current speech-language pathologist
I previously completed my B.S.Ed. in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Georgia.  I researched episodic memory in adults with traumatic brain injury. As I moved to Chicago, I decided to switch gears and begin to learn more about the neurological development of language in children. Through the LEARN Lab, I have developed a passion for researching aspects of pediatric language development that can be applied in a clinical setting. Outside of the lab, I enjoy exploring Chicago, practicing yoga, and hanging out with friends.

Emily Harriott, Undergraduate ’19, Full-time research assistant, Current PhD student in Neuroscience, Vanderbilt Universityemily
Majors: Human Communication Sciences and Neuroscience. My interest in communication sciences stems from watching a relative progress from being unable to produce more than a few incomprehensible sounds to speaking in complete sentences in a matter of weeks; I think that transformation is amazing. I’ve been part of the lab since the beginning of my undergraduate career here at Northwestern and have learned so much (various behavioral tests, EEG data collection and analysis, how to write grants/proposals, how to present research to colleagues, problem solving, etc!) and loved every minute of it. Outside the lab, I love to run, bike, read, and watch sports, particularly the New York Yankees. Go ‘Cats!

Shelby Isaacs, Undergraduate ’18, Current medical student
Major: Human  communication sciences, minor: psychology. I became interested in communication sciences because of my love of reading! My favorite thing about the LEARN lab is that there are so many unanswered questions about communication disorders, and the potential to learn something new is infinite. I love being creative and learning new things about skills I use every day. Outside the lab I like to bake, watch sports, and read.

Yuri Jo, Undergraduate ’21, Current SLP student, USC
Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders, Minor: Psychology. My interests for studying language and speech disorders stem from my experience working with children with disabilities earlier on. The LEARN Lab gives me the opportunity to enhance my research skills while immersing myself in research related to language and literacy development. In my free time, I love going on road trips, trying new eateries, and doing spontaneous activities with friends!

Jissmaria Karickal, Undergraduate ’20, Currently medical student
Major: Neuroscience, minor: Global Health Studies. Growing up bilingual, I became interested in how proficiency in multiple languages affects a child’s brain development. I enjoy working with children, having tutored in the past and now as a volunteer teacher. The LEARN Lab allows me to explore my research interest while also teaching me skills that are applicable to clinical settings. In my free time, I love to test recipes on my family and friends, learn new languages, and travel as much as possible.

Celia Kaufer, MS-SLL ’17, Current speech-language pathologistcelia2
I’m originally from Newton, MA, right outside of Boston. For my undergraduate degree I studied Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, where I completed my honors thesis investigating the relationship between acoustic degradation and memory. In my free time, I love playing sports, traveling, reading, and exploring Chicago!

Ann Lee, MS-SLL ’18, Current speech-language pathologist
I’m originally from Hong Kong. I completed my undergraduate degrees in Psychology at UCLA and Speech and Hearing Sciences at University of Washington, Seattle. During my studies, I have developed a specific interest in how cognition and language interact in children with language-based learning disabilities. In my spare time, I enjoy watching baking shows and traveling-family vlogs on YouTube with a bag of All Dressed Ruffles.

Jade Mitchell, Undergraduate ’18, SLP student at Vanderbilt University, Current SLP
Major: Human  communication sciences. I became interested in communication sciences because of my love of music and the voice. My favorite thing about the LEARN lab is that there are so many unexplored areas within language and learning and the LEARN lab allows me to ask some of these unanswered questions. I love exploring questions of language that intersect with the field sociology. Outside the lab I like to play and listen to music, play sports, and read.

Camille Nuttall, MS-SLL ’20, Current speech-language pathologist
I attended Brigham Young University for my undergraduate degree in Communication Disorders with a minor in Sociology. I developed a love for research as I learned how new research can be applied in clinical settings. I am interested in the neural and cognitive development of language and how environmental variation impacts that development. In addition, I enjoy studying early literacy acquisition. In my free time, I love to run, play board games, water color and cheer on the Cubs.

Olufemi Shakuur Nyabingi, Undergraduate ’21, Current research assistant, Fox Lab, University of Maryland
Majors: Neuroscience and Spanish. Having a background working with kids, I’ve always been amazed by the speed and complexity of childhood development. The LEARN lab has given me the opportunity to experience the interconnected and interdisciplinary nature of developmental research. I love seeing how the lab uses the intersections of behavioral analysis and physical brain measurements to carry out research! Outside of the lab I love cooking, listening to music, going to art museums, and working out. In the future I would like to continue in a career of research striving to get my PhD in Neuroscience.

Skylar Ozoh, Undergraduate ’19, Current postbac premed 
Major: Neuroscience. I’ve always been interested in understanding the neuroscience of child behavior and development after working with children in various settings. The LEARN Lab gives me the opportunity to learn more about child development and the importance of early intervention. Outside the lab, I tutor elementary school kids in the Books & Breakfast program, sing in the Northwestern Community Ensemble choir and I enjoy biking and listening to music

Jessica Page, PhD, Former postdoctoral fellow, Current research fellow at American Academy of Sleep Medicine
I received my B.A. in Psychology and Philosophy at the University at Buffalo. I completed both my M.Ed. in Early Intervention and Family Support and my Ph.D. in Applied Development Science and Special Education, and Psychology and Neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill. My research uses interdisciplinary practices to capture the transition from infancy to toddlerhood, a time period in which children show vast change. Given this immense change, I am interested in examining risk for neurodevelopmental disorders by using behavioral and imaging assays as EEG/ERP and MRI to examine cognitive development in both wake and sleep. My research seeks to understand how these states influence developmental neuropathology and the presence of atypical brain oscillations embedded within the EEG of individuals with or at increased risk for neurodevelopmental disorders.

Kamila Postolowicz, Undergraduate ’20, Current SLP student at University of Wisconsin, Madison
Major: Human  communication sciences. Growing up as a Polish and English bilingual, I have always been interested in how the brain organizes and processes language. The vastness of cognition intrigued me and pushed me to gain more knowledge within the field. I am excited to be working in the lab, as I have learned so much being involved in research studies that explore questions that the world does not have answers to yet. Beyond the lab, I enjoy spending time outdoors, traveling to new places, and spending time with friends.

Heather Turnbull, MS-SLL ’18, Current speech-language pathologist
I am interested in childhood language development, particuarly in bilingual populations. My undergraduate degree is in adolescent education and English literature. After graduation, I taught English in Taiwan for a couple of years (ages 6-18) and studied Mandarin Chinese. This experience solidified my interest in understanding how we learn and use language.

Jiaxin Alice Wang, MS-SLL ’21, Current speech-language pathologist
I received my B.S. at Oklahoma State University in Communication Sciences and Disorders with minors in Linguistics, English, and TESL. I have always been fascinated with the cognitive and neurological underpinnings of speech and language development, and I’m interested in exploring the use of structural and functional neuroimaging as research tools. In my free time, I enjoy making textile arts, immersing myself in the nature, cooking good food, and spending quality time with friends and family.


Kevin Zhang, Undergraduate ’19, current researcherkevin5
Major: Biology. I am interested in applying research to real-world settings. I find that the research field of communication development and diseases has great potential in helping those affected by communication disorders. One of my projects in the lab, funded by an Undergraduate Research Grant, focuses on determining which form of measurement best predicts language improvement after intervention. I also translate at the China Town health clinic, volunteer at NorthShore Hospital, work at the school athletic center, and run in my free time.