Matt Nassar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University. He received his BA at Colgate University and his Doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed post-doctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania and Brown University before joining the faculty at Brown. His research examines how the brain prioritizes, segregates, and combines information collected in complex environments and how this process differs across individuals, pathologies, and over healthy aging. For example, why and how do people prioritize sensory information arriving at certain times or locations? How does this prioritization differ across individuals and change across healthy aging? How does the internal state of the brain affect ongoing cognition and sensory processing? What functions might these dynamic fluctuations serve in the real world?
Matt Nassar grew up in Norwich, a small town in rural upstate New York, and attended college thirty minutes away at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. After getting cut from his soccer team, he spent more time on his studies and discovered neuroscience. After college, he took the MCAT (just in case) and started doing research as a volunteer while waiting tables to pay rent. He wrote a grant to turn his volunteer job into a paid position; it didn’t get funded, but it did get him in touch with Mark Mattson, chief of the NIA Laboratory of Neuroscience, who then took him on as a research trainee. As an IRTA scholar in the Mattson lab, Matt studied the molecular mechanisms of aging before applying to grad school and eventually beginning a PhD in the Neuroscience Graduate Program at the University of Pennsylvania. He did two rotations in molecular biology labs before he tried something totally different and rotated in a systems neuroscience lab run by Josh Gold. He joined the lab, learned to code, taught himself some math, and did a thesis aimed at understanding how fluctuations in arousal alter information processing in the brain. In the middle of his thesis, he traveled to the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin where he was able to employ these research tools to better understand how aging affects the computations that underlie learning in the brain. After grad school, Matt stuck around UPenn to do a short post-doc with Joe Kable learning to collect and analyze fMRI data. He then took a post-doc with Michael Frank at Brown University where he drastically expanded his knowledge of computational modeling and cognitive neuroscience. After an extensive job search for a faculty position, it amazingly worked out for him to stay at Brown as an Assistant Professor in the Neuroscience Department. He started his lab virtually in January 2019, obtained physical space in February 2019, got kicked out of physical space at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, and has lived in a state of confusion about whether meetings are in-person or virtual ever since. He lives in Providence, RI with his wife and 3 daughters; he enjoys walking his kids to school, running along the waterfront, and occasionally still getting beat at soccer.