Current Members

Directors | Lab Staff | Graduate Students


James R. Lackner

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 and 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.

James Lackner

Paul DiZio

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 lifespan, 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.

Paul DiZio

Lab Staff

Avijit Bakshi, Post-Doc

Avijit performs noninvasive measurements of kinematic and dynamical variables of 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 Master of Science (Physics) from the University of Calcutta, India, and his Ph.D. from the Department of Physics at Brandeis University.

Janna Kaplan, Senior Research Associate and Lecturer

Janna Kaplan, M.S. is 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 US as a Jewish refugee from Russia (former Soviet Union) in 1982. She lives in Newton, MA with her husband Ed Kaplan. They have two college age children, Aaron and Sima.

Janna Kaplan's CV

Janna Kaplan
Lee Picard, Administrator

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, MA with her husband Aaron Picard. She has three sons. Jonathan is a student at RPI, Joshua an undergraduate at Brandeis, and Joey attends Weston High School.

Lee Picard
Alberto Pierobon, Research Engineer

Alberto Pierobon received his Master of Science in mechanical engineering, summa cum laude, from the University of Padova (Italy). Graduating in April 2003, his thesis was on the elasto-plastic behaviour of the human spinal servo, developed at the Graybiel Spatial Orientation Lab under the supervision of Professor Simone Bortolami.

Currently, he is working on mechanical and control system models for analysis of control strategies during voluntary movements in perturbed force fields.

Some of his additional interests include mountaineering, reading and enjoying life.

Alberto Pierobon
Joel Ventura, Senior Research Scientist

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.


Joel Ventura
Vivekanand Pandey Vimal

Vivekanand is a PhD graduate student in the neuroscience 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 6 years. He also worked for one 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.

Vivekanand Pandey Vimal
Sacha Panic

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 the 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 Prof. DiZio and Prof. Lackner at the Graybiel lab.

In 2011 he started working towards a PhD in cognitive neuroscience, again with Prof. DiZio and Prof. 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 & virtual reality software toolset, and organized cultural events aimed at exposing the electronic music, digital media & computer art (known as the 'demoscene') subcultures to the general population.


Graduate Students

Lila Fakharzadeh

Lila is a Ph.D. graduate student in the neuroscience program.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience with honors from Wellesley. As a neuroscience major, she also had an affinity towards physics and programming.  Her interest in research was sparked while working at a cognitive neuroscience lab at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research under Dr. Nancy Kanwisher. There she was introduced to research techniques which included fMRI and DTI.  After graduating from college she worked in a clinical research lab at the Brigham and Women’s hospital studying the neurodegenerative disease, multiple sclerosis, where she acquired experience using wet lab techniques and working with physicians.

Her research is focused on the importance of visual cues, the integration of sensory cues, and learning in balancing tasks.

In her free time, Lila enjoys playing the piano, listening to music, singing, traveling, drawing, and taking pictures.

Lila Fakharzadeh
Heather Panic

Heather is a PhD graduate student in the neuroscience program. She received a BS in computer science from Louisiana Tech University and a BS in psychology from the Open University (United Kingdom).

Prior to attending Brandeis she worked as a research scientist for NATO, where she developed military training software. Her current research focuses on the sense of self-orientation during active and passive body tilt.

In her free time, she enjoys traveling, music, and growing her own food.