what is sleep rough_a
PARTICIPANTS: Mary Carskadon, Paul Shaw, Robert Stickgold, Matthew Wilson
PROGRAM DATE: Sunday, May 31, 2015

What is sleep? Why do we dream? And what goes on in sleeping brains—from the tiny fruit fly’s to ours? In this program, Alan Alda talks with top sleep researchers and also highlights the winners of the 2015 Flame Challenge, in which video and written explanations of sleep were judged by 20,000 eleven year-olds.

This program is in association with the Flame Challenge, an annual contest held by The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

Photograph: Jon Smith

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Alan Alda
Actor, Author, Director

Alan Alda, a seven-time Emmy Award–winner, played Hawkeye Pierce and wrote many of the episodes on the classic TV series M*A*S*H, and appeared in continuing roles on ER, The West Wing, 30 Rock, and The Blacklist. He has starred in, written, and directed many films, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Aviator. 

His interest in science led to his hosting the award-winning PBS series Scientific American Frontiers for 11 years, on which he interviewed hundreds of scientists.  Also on PBS he hosted The Human Spark, winning the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, and Brains on Trial in 2013. On Broadway, he appeared as the physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED. He is the author of the play Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie. He has won the National Science Board’s “Public Service Award,” the Scientific American “Lifetime Achievement Award,” and the American Chemical Society Award for “Public Service,” among others.  He is a Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.


Mary Carskadon_192
Sleep Researcher

Professor Mary Carskadon is an authority on adolescent sleep. Her research raised public awareness about the consequences of insufficient sleep in adolescents and influenced education policy, prompting school districts to delay school start times for teens. Carskadon’s past research examined sleep and circadian rhythm processes in adolescents and the influence of parental alcohol use history on sleep and circadian rhythms of youth. Her current research assesses depressed mood and serotonin genes in college students, effects of circadian timing on smell, taste, and food choices in overweight and normal weight teens, and smart lighting strategies for schools. Carskadon is a distinguished alumna of Gettysburg College with a doctorate in neuro- and bio-behavioral sciences from Stanford University. She has received awards from national organizations recognizing her scientific, educational, and public policy contributions. She is an elected Fellow of the Association for Psychological Science and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Paul Shaw_192

Paul Shaw received his Ph.D. working with Allan Rechtschaffen at the University of Chicago investigating the effects of chronic total sleep deprivation in the rat. He subsequently joined the Neurosciences Institute as a postdoctoral fellow with Giulio Tononi where they began using the fruit fly as a model system to identify molecules that play critical roles in regulating sleep homeostasis. Shaw was promoted to the rank of associate fellow in 2000 at the Neurosciences Institute. He later joined the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at Washington University School of Medicine where he is now an associate professor studying how sleep loss disrupts the ability of an organism to acquire and/or consolidate memories. Shaw has served on the Research Committee, the Educational Program Committee, and the Scientific Program Committee for the Annual Meeting of the of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.


Robert Stickgold_192
Cognitive Neuroscientist

Robert Stickgold is an associate professor of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. He received his B.A. from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, both in biochemistry. He has published over 100 scientific publications, including papers in Science, Nature, JAMA, and Nature Neuroscience. He has also spoken multiple times at the Boston Museum of Science and at Amsterdam’s NEMO science center. His work looks at the nature and function of sleep and dreams from a cognitive neuroscience perspective, with an emphasis on the role of sleep and dreams in memory consolidation and integration, and how defects in these processes contribute to psychiatric disorders, including PTSD and schizophrenia. His work is funded by NIMH.


Neuroscientist, Dream Researcher

Matthew Wilson is Sherman Fairchild Professor of Neuroscience and Picower Scholar at MIT. His lab is interested in teasing apart the mechanisms of sleep and arousal, and applications of neuroscience in engineering and the study of intelligence. Wilson investigates brain systems that contribute to learning, memory, spatial navigation, and decision-making, and their possible involvement in neurological diseases and disorders. His research has focused on the manner in which memory representations in the brain are formed, maintained, and used during behavior. His approach employs several distinct strategies for examining the neural basis of memory, including electrophysiological, molecular genetic, behavioral, and computational approaches. Wilson received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and his Ph.D. in Computation and Neural Systems from the California Institute of Technology. In addition to his professorship at MIT, Wilson is also the Associate Department Head for Education.