OGDEN, Utah – The U.S. Air Force has waged war against fatigue, and they've enlisted the help of Weber State University psychology professor Lauren Fowler.
Fowler will spend this year consulting with a group of Air Force researchers at Brooks City-Base in San Antonio to study fatigue and disruptions in the circadian rhythm (the body's daily cycles of eating, sleeping and other functions) of pilots and air battle managers. Air battle managers work 13-hour shifts, and researchers are looking for ways to increase performance, safety and fight fatigue. According to the Air Force Safety Center, fatigue contributes to $54 million lost in Class A incidents. These incidents are those involving aircraft and the loss of life, and which cost at least $1 million.
"Our goal is to enable safe and effective warfighter performance in operational air and space environments," wrote Air Force Maj. Brandon Doan in an e-mail interview.
The appointment to the position was a surprise to Fowler. "I was in shock," Fowler said.
Working with WSU's office of sponsored projects, Fowler submitted a paper describing her research protocol. The paper was sent to members of Utah's congressional delegation, who in turn contacted Brooks City-Base. Fowler was a perfect fit for the program.
"Dr. Fowler demonstrated a unique expertise and interest in physiological precursors to circadian desynchronization, which will add value to our efforts to predict and mitigate fatigue-induced errors in U.S. Air Force night, extended and global missions," Doan wrote.
Fowler will help study the correlation between circadian rhythms and cognitive performance (thinking, learning and studying). According to Fowler this type of research is rare. Most circadian rhythms research focuses on the physical effects—how a person hears better or can be stronger at certain times of the day.
Fowler will be looking at applied cognitive processes, and how they are affected by the time of day. She wants to help find out if there are certain times when aircraft personnel can perform their tasks better, faster and easier.
Fowler said WSU students will also benefit from her work with the Air Force. She would like to get students involved in background research with the possibility of field experience.
"Best case scenario would be if they were able to go (to Brooks City-Base) to conduct some of the research over the summer," Fowler said. Doan also would like to incorporate some WSU students into the research.
Fowler will consult with the researchers via phone and email during the semester and visit the lab in the summer. She said teaching is still her first priority and that her research work will enhance her classroom instruction.
"It will keep us on the cutting edge," said Fowler. "It's one thing when you read textbooks because they are usually one to two years behind, but this offers insight into what's going on right now," Fowler said.
Fowler said she hopes her partnership with the Air Force researchers will go beyond this year. Doan wrote that there would be potential to continue working with Fowler if the inaugural program is successful.