James R. Lackner received his undergraduate and graduate training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research interests concern human spatial orientation and movement control in unusual force conditions including weightless, high force and artificial gravity environments. One feature of his work includes the recognition that exposure to non-terrestrial force environments helps reveal the nature of sensory-motor adaptation to the normal force background of earth.
He is a member of the Volen Center for Complex Systems, the Psychology Department at Brandeis and is the Riklis Professor of Physiology. He has been director of the Ashton Graybiel Spatial Orientation Laboratory since its founding in 1982.
Paul DiZio has worked in the Graybiel Laboratory since its founding in 1982. He received his graduate training there in experimental psychology and has been the associate director since 1986. In 1995, he became a faculty member in the Psychology Department and the Volen Center for Complex Systems.
Paul’s major research interests are human spatial orientation, posture and balance, movement control and coordination, sensory-motor adaptation, motor development, multi-sensory interactions, space perception, space flight physiology, human factors in virtual environments and motion sickness. Experimental approaches to these problems involve unusual force environments, such as space flight and virtual environments, as well as clinical conditions, such as labyrinthine loss, congenital blindness, peripheral neuropathy, autism spectrum disorder, and cerebellar dysfunction. These approaches are important both for illuminating basic neural mechanisms and for achieving solutions to practical problems. Practical applications of interest include development of motor control and posture across the life span, disorders of movement in autism, vestibular loss and other clinical conditions, and predicting and circumventing degradation of perception and performance in unusual force environments, developing brain-computer interfaces.
Avijit performs noninvasive measurements of kinematic and dynamical variables of the human body. He then analyzes and models the control of human posture. Currently he is experimenting, analyzing and trying to model the phenomenon of step initiation and falling, and their relations to the observed lateral postural asymmetries.
Avijit’s interests in biological application of physics attracted him to the Graybiel Lab. He received his bachelor’s degree and MS (physics) from the University of Calcutta, India, and his PhD from the Department of Physics at Brandeis University.
Janna Kaplan, MS, is a lecturer in psychology and senior research associate at Brandeis University’s Graybiel Lab, specializing in neuropsychology and space research. At Brandeis since 1983, she studies human adaptation to various conditions of space flight, such as zero-G, high-G, artificial gravity environments, spatial orientation and space motion sickness.
Within the Graybiel Lab and on the foundation of its research and experience, Janna has developed a program for commercial and private payload and research astronaut training of which she is now program lead and senior scientist. The training protocol focuses on sensorimotor human factors of flight, such as space motion sickness, spatial disorientation, spatial illusions and movement errors in changing gravitoinertial force environments.
Janna serves on Faculty Advisory Councils of the Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry, and of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute for the Study of Jewish Women. She frequently lectures at schools and to various groups about the science of space exploration. Of special interest to her is the role of STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering, math) in empowerment and intellectual development of adolescent girls.
Janna’s undergraduate and graduate degrees are from the University of Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). Janna came to the United States as a Jewish refugee from Russia (former Soviet Union) in 1982. She lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with husband Ed Kaplan. They have two college-age children, Aaron and Sima.
After completing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering in 1997, Sacha went on to pursue a career as a software engineer. For more than a decade, he worked on educational software, digital video broadcasting applications and internet applications.
Although he enjoyed working with innovative technologies and mentoring and teaching junior software developers and graphic designers, in 2007 he decided to pursue a master’s degree in man machine interaction at Delft University of Technology with an honors degree in human factors engineering.
His thesis project, “Addressing Patient Motivation in Virtual Reality-Based Neurocognitive Rehabilitation,” was partially done at the sensory motor systems laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. This experience prompted him to focus his academic pursuit on psychology, leading him to the master’s degree program at Brandeis University, working with Professors DiZio and Lackner at the Graybiel lab.
In 2011, he started working towards a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, again with Professors DiZio and Lackner as his advisors. He is interested in how the visual and vestibular systems interact to produce a sense of spatial orientation.
In his spare time, Sacha has enjoyed riding his motorcycle, dabbled with electronics and designed a transistor-based synthesizer, created a 3D and virtual reality software toolset, and organized cultural events aimed at exposing the electronic music, digital media and computer art (known as the "demoscene") subcultures to the general population.
Lee Picard is the administrator of the Graybiel Laboratory. She is an active member of the National Council of University Administrators.
Lee lives in Weston, Massachusetts, with husband Aaron Picard. She has three sons. Jonathan is a student at RPI, Joshua is an undergraduate at Brandeis, and Joey attends Weston High School.
Alberto Pierobon has been working on a wide ranging field of interests including mechanical and control system models for analyzing motor control strategies in perturbed force fields, machine learning-based EEG analysis for brain-machine interfaces, modeling the mechanisms of balance, and many more. He has carried out experiments with human subjects in parabolic flight, in the lab's rotating room and dual-axis rotating device, on moving vehicles, and in other unusual environments.
Alberto received his MS in mechanical engineering, summa cum laude, from the University of Padova (Italy). Graduating in April 2003, his thesis was on the elasto-plastic behavior of the human spinal servo, developed at the Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab under the supervision of Professor Simone Bortolami.
Joel Ventura is a research scientist in the Graybiel Lab. He helps design and set up equipment to run experiments, especially for the lab's 22-foot-diameter Slow Rotation Room. His research interests include spatial orientation and he has a special interest in, and fondness for, motion sickness (in others).
Joel received his undergraduate degree in physics from Carnegie Mellon University and his graduate degree in experimental psychology from Brandeis University.
Vivekanand is a 2017 graduate of the the Brandeis neuroscience PhD program. He received a BA in physics (with minors in computer science and mathematics) from Boston University. After that, he taught physics, environmental science and chemistry at Waltham High School for six years. He also worked for a year as a consultant for a NGO in India (CECOEDECON). There, he wrote a variety of grants ranging from micro-watershed development to youth employment. He also made documentaries about the effects of climate change on subsistence farmers, entrepreneurship in a tribal populations and the situation of children in the city of Tonk.
His research is focused on characterizing learning during balancing tasks in the absence of reflexes, passive stiffness of muscles, vision and audition. In addition, he is studying the role of gravitational cues in balancing.
In his free time, Vivekanand enjoys taking pictures of insects, running, hiking, composing music, making short films and creating collaborations between Brandeis and Waltham High School.
Rachel is a PhD student in the psychology program. She received a BA degree in psychology with a minor in cognitive science from UCLA (summa cum laude, along with College Honors), and a MA degree in experimental psychology from Brandeis University. During her college years, she assisted with a variety of research projects on multisensory integration, language processing in brains and animal behaviors. She also worked for the UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools because of her interest in clinical psychology and education. During the first few years of PhD, she continued to pursue her research interest on multisensory integration during human balancing and spatial orientation. Currently, she is investigating risk factors and adaption in human postural control.
Outside the lab, Rachel is into fashion, making YouTube videos, EDM, playing instruments (she plays 10+ of them with a current focus on electric guitar), food, social, reading, business collaborations and much more!
Hannah is a PhD student in the psychology program. She received a MA degree in experimental psychology from Brandeis University and continued her research as a research assistant at BALLAB, Boston University. Her interests are the underlying cognitive age-related differences in balancing, and interplays among the gait, cognition and sustained attention. She is currently pursuing her research on the relationships between human postural control and balancing a virtual object. In her free time, Hannah enjoys running, playing the piano and traveling.
Luke is a PhD student in the experimental psychology program. Previously from Cleveland State University, his interests are on how people adapt/update their internal models under a variety of conditions. Specifically, he is interested in the interplay between implicit and explicit strategies in motor skill acquisition.
In his free time, Luke enjoys working out at the gym, collecting meteorites and traveling the world.