Calvin Carter, PhD, views science as a type of canvas.
“You get to paint a really particular picture,” says the postdoctoral research fellow in neuroscience. “You get to pursue the questions that interest you. You get to make discoveries about the world that are fueled by your perception, because everybody has different perspectives.”
It’s those different perspectives that Carter—recently named an inspiring Black scientist on the Cell Press blog “CrossTalk”—wants other Black Americans to bring to the STEM fields.
“Black scientists make up 3 to 4% of scientists,” he says. “I think it’s really important to highlight the Black scientists that are out there, that are making a difference, and that are making discoveries that are changing the world day by day.”
Carter says young Black students may not see many inspiring figures and may not aspire to go into science.
“I think that the more Black people get motivated to go into science, the more unique discoveries we’ll have and the more progress we’ll make,” he says.
Early interest in neuroscience
Raised by a microbiologist mom, Carter grew up going to the lab. His late father, a business professor, sparked in him a curiosity about the world.
“He spent a lot of time in China and would bring back stories about the Chinese philosophy and this concept of chi, of energy, and how energy can treat all sorts of ailments,” he says. “I grew up with this concept, just absolutely fascinated with what energy fields could do to the body.”
Carter’s father posited that humans only use 10% of their brains. He asked his son: What do we do with the other 90%? Those type of mysteries fascinated Carter.
Inspired by his family, Carter knew from an early age that he wanted to go into neuroscience. He majored in biology as an undergraduate at Hofstra University and received his doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Iowa. He ultimately chose to follow his passion conducting research at Iowa, where his primary focus is understanding the role of cilia and neural progenitor cells in health and human disease.
Researching the effects of energy fields
In 2015, Carter began a project in the lab of Val Sheffield, MD, PhD, the Roy J. Carver Chair in Molecular Genetics in the UI Carver College of Medicine, to study the biological mechanism of how electromagnetic energy fields interact with the body.
“Right now, we have these fields around us—Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cell phone fields—and we don’t know what they do to the body,” he says. “And so, this question has been with me since I was a kid.”
In 2016, one day in Dr. Sheffield’s lab, a fellow graduate student asked Carter to borrow some of his mice. She needed the animals to practice taking blood sugar. Carter let her borrow some of the mice he’d treated using electromagnetic energy fields.
“She came back the next day and said, ‘These animals, they have half the amount of blood sugar.’ They were diabetic; now they’re not.”
That finding held up and Carter has pursued this in animal models, as well as human tissues.
“These electromagnetic fields have really remarkable biological effects that can be exploited for medical applications,” he says.
Carter is excited about these findings and how they may change diabetes management in the future and is continuing working on this project to determine the mechanism by which the fields are working.
“I think this research is going to have a big impact in medicine.”
Carter highlights the outstanding mentors he’s had at UI Hospitals & Clinics, including, Drs. Val Sheffield, Dan Tranel, E. Dale Abel, Douglas Spitz, Garry Buettner, Kamal Rahmouni and François Abboud. “I’m very grateful for the support that I’ve had at UI.”