Last week, Matt Carter, assistant professor of biology at the College, received a CAREER grant worth $586,000 over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research on the genetics of sleep. The grant will cover research for him and his students and give Carter an opportunity to initiate numerous outreach programs and a new Winter Study course.
“The best aspect of the CAREER Award is that it funds both laboratory research and education and outreach initiatives,” Carter said. “This grant will impact students by providing exciting cutting-edge research experiences, and it will also impact students in a much broader sense across the College community by providing resources designed to increase sleep health and wellness.”
His primary research project, titled the “Bidirectional Control of Sleep and Wakefulness by the Hypothalamic Arcuate Nucleus,” derived from numerous student suggestions, keeping in the collaborative spirit of the award.
“The preliminary data for this grant specifically came from a group of students I have worked with over the past few years,” Carter said. “They discovered that when a part of the brain that regulates hunger is overactive, the quantity and quality of sleep is disturbed. These results led to a new hypothesis that brain regions that regulate appetite can play a role in how well an animal sleeps, and even suggested specific neuroanatomical pathways that may regulate sleep and wake behavior.”
Carter is particularly excited that his research project in a small liberal arts college is garnering widespread national attention.
“It is exciting when scientists at major research institutions contact me because they are interested in the results coming out of my lab, and I am proud to tell them about the Williams students who produced the work,” Carter said.
Besides aiding his primary research with students, the grant will also give him an opportunity to educate the wider College community on the benefits of sleep and how students can sleep more. Carter plans on spreading related educational materials across campus in a fun and innovative way, and he hopes to collaborate with the Center for Learning in Action to promote sleep science in surrounding community areas.
“Something that has always bugged me is the myth that sleep must be sacrificed if you want to succeed in classes, have a good social life, and especially if you are involved with extracurricular activities,” Carter said. “Learning about sleep science and productivity at the same time teaches you that you really can get enough sleep as long as you are strategic and make good choices.”
In addition, Carter will offer a Winter Study course titled “The Science of Sleep (and the Art of Productivity)” beginning in January 2018.
“I could not be more excited about this course or the goals,” Carter said. “We will learn about the physiological and health aspects of sleep, talk about how to get more sleep in the face of a very busy schedule, and produce a set of educational materials that we will share with the campus and community.”