Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences? Is it associated with the University of Washington?

The Institute is an interdisciplinary research unit created to conduct innovative research on lifelong learning and the brain using both behavioral and neuroscience methods. It is part of the UW, although it is not a traditional academic "department," because it is home to scientists with diverse expertise such as developmental psychology, speech and hearing science, engineering, neuroscience and linguistics who come together around focal scientific issues in learning.

What are the key goals for the Institute?

Our primary goal is to become the world's foremost research generator on early learning and development. We are also committed to translating and disseminating cutting-edge research discoveries to global constituents in order to help unify the science of learning and the practice of learning.

What are the research priorities at the Institute?
Using a combination of behavioral research methods and brain-imaging techniques I-LABS is focused on exploring three key learning domains: language, social and emotional development and cognition.
Are I-LABS researchers only focused on brain development in babies and toddlers?

Our primary focus is on the first five years of life.  However, we believe that the principles discovered in the first five years can be used to understand at least two other periods of important behavioral change and brain development—adolescence and aging. During adolescence, the brain quite literally prunes and sculpts its neural architecture and yet scientists know almost nothing about how this sculpting process works or about the role of experience and nurturing in optimizing outcomes. I-LABS’ studies of learning and the brain have the potential to illuminate some of the changes they undergo during this period. Our research will also tell us more about the aging brain and what can be done to keep the brain agile for as long as possible. Our neuroimaging tools and behavioral studies will help us understand neuroplasticity, which may help us teach old brains new tricks to keep them nimble.

What is MEG?

Magnetoencephalograhphy (MEG) is a completely safe and quiet neuroimaging device, and it acts like a large stethoscope or sensor for the mind. When a child or adult sitting in the machine experiences a word, sight, emotion, or touch, the neurons working together in the person’s brain generate tiny magnetic field changes. MEG technology pinpoints those changes and tracks them millisecond by millisecond, with millimeter spatial precision, creating dynamic topographic-like maps of the brain.  Read More »

Why is I-LABS research important?

Advances in brain and behavioral research have fueled a new sense of urgency about learning and school-readiness in children. Breakthroughs in brain science show how the cultural environment alters children’s brain development. Discoveries in behavioral science document the fact that early learning sets the foundation for success in school and in life. The Ready Mind Project’s multi-year research initiative will allow new basic research discoveries and formalize a way in which those discoveries will change society and improve the lives of children.

Why does I-LABS need donations?

I-LABS is in the position to become world leaders in early learning and brain development research. We have received multi-million dollar federal and private grants.  However in order to maintain leadership through new discoveries we need additional resources that will enable access to the newest research tools and technology and to continue to attract world-leading faculty and staff.   If interested to learn about funding opportunities, please contact Erica Stevens.

As a student, how can I get involved at the Institute?

Each quarter we seek student assistants to work in the laboratories. We usually recruit through the departments -- such as Psychology, Speech & Hearing Sciences and Neurobiology & Behavior -- with which our researchers are associated. You may also inquire about student or volunteer positions by emailing

Has I-LABS produced a book that makes the science accessible and understandable?

Our co-directors collaborated with Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., on a book that explains much of the child-oriented research we do. The Scientist in the Crib is a highly readable, interesting look at the work we do and its value to the world. Check our Recent Media page for information on popular press coverage of the Institute's scientists, or look at individual scientists pages for lists of their recently published scientific work.

For further information...
Email us at