Meet the Lab!

Lab Director

Deena Skolnick Weisberg is Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Villanova University, where she directs the Scientific Thinking and Representation (STAR) Laboratory. She is also the co-director of the Pennsylvania Laboratory for Understanding Science (PLUS). She earned her Ph.D. in Psychology from Yale University and received postdoctoral training at Rutgers University and at Temple University. Her research interests include scientific thinking and reasoning in children and adults, the development of imaginative cognition, and the roles that the imagination plays in learning. Her work has been published in a variety of scholarly journals, including Science and Cognition, and has received funding from the Templeton Foundation and the National Science Foundation. Learn more about Dr. Weisberg here.


Marta Biarnes is the Director of Community Outreach for the STAR Lab. She comes to the lab with 13 years of experience at the Museum of Science in Boston where she led community outreach efforts for Greater Boston families, developed engaging early childhood exhibits and programming, and created quality professional development experiences for informal science educators and university researchers. Marta co-founded Living Laboratory — a framework for museum-university collaborations that aims to communicate on-going research to the public through fun, hands-on research experiences — and served as PI and co-PI of various National Science Foundation grants, including the broadly implemented National Living Laboratory initiative. She received her Ed. M. in Human Development and Psychology at Harvard University.


Natasha Chlebuch is the Lab Coordinator for the STAR Lab. She also manages the Pennsylvania Lab for Understanding Science. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She spent three years working with at-risk and adjudicated youths at the Montgomery County Youth Center. Her research interests include the effect of personality on felt and expressed emotions, and she hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in forensic psychology. She has a white german shepherd, named Ana, that takes up all of her free time.

Master’s Students

Aarti Bodas graduated from the University of Washington in June 2019 with a B.S. in Psychology with Honors and a minor in Global Health. After studying infants’ moral development in her undergrad, Aarti is excited to learn about children’s learning as a first-year Master’s student. She is particularly interested in how children’s own motivation and creativity (i..e, imagination and creative problem-solving), as well as how their external environment (i.e., culture and context) can influence their learning. Outside of the lab and class, she is an avid writer and knitter, loves binging on Netflix shows, finding new places to grab coffee, cooking and baking, hanging out with friends, traveling and photography.

Arundhati Debnath graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She went on to complete her M.A. in Applied Psychology from the University of Mumbai. She is broadly interested in developmental psychopathology and more specifically the relation between parenting and the development of mood disorders in adolescents, and risk and resilience. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, playing the guitar and hanging out with friends.



Undergraduate Research Assistants

Marcella Parisi is a sophomore psychology major from Mendham, NJ. She hopes to earn her master’s degree in clinical psychology and eventually her Ph.D. She hopes to do research and therapy with developmentally delayed children. In her free time, Marcella enjoys recreational running, music festivals, and laying on the beach. At Villanova, she is involved in Rays of Sunshine, Yearbook, and Relay for Life.


Tori Muller is a sophomore Psychology major and is minoring in English as well as Classical Studies. She is from Wyckoff, New Jersey and hopes to earn a master’s degree in Applied Psychology and eventually her Ph.D. At Villanova, she is a member of the Women’s Soccer team and volunteers with Rays of Sunshine. In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, spending time with friends, and going down the Jersey Shore.


Kayleigh Purcell is a junior Psychology major with minors in Education and Spanish. She is from a suburb outside of Chicago. She is hoping to one day become a teacher, so she is really excited to be a part of this lab and explore kids’ learning processes. At Villanova, she is a part of NOVAdance committee and works in Campus Ministry a lot. In her free time, she likes to hang out with friends, watch some of her Netflix favorites (New Girl and Friends), and go for runs.


Grace Gentle is a freshman Psychology major with an intended Business minor from Succasunna, NJ. She hopes to earn her master’s degree in Human Resource Development or Management and eventually her Ph.D. In her free time, Grace enjoys teaching karate classes, cooking, and taking day trips down the Jersey Shore. At Villanova, she is involved in NOVAdance and Greek Life.


Izzy Stone is a freshman Psychology and Communications double-major, with a (hopeful) business minor, from Severna Park, Maryland. She hopes to eventually attend graduate school and explore the psychological world of intellectual and developmental disabilities. At Villanova, she is a part of the Special Olympics committee and hopes to be in a leadership position of her sorority. In her free time, she loves hanging out with her mom, eating candy, and spending lots of time outside.



Carolyn McWhirter is an Economics major with an intended minor in Psychology at Villanova University from Pennington New Jersey. At Villanova, she works in the business office of the Theater Department and she hopes to continue to work in the arts in the future. She is also involved in other organizations on campus such as Student Government and Greek Life.

Research Assistant Alumni

Bella Stern



Olivia Junghyun Choi




Sarah Wiik



Sammantha Chiu



Olivia Dutton



Giselle Striedinger




Julia Reidy




Helen Yu



Irini Economos




Keren Mir-Almaguer