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Meet a Scientist Monday: Dr. Victor Ruiz-Velasco

Do you know what a neurophysiologist does? Let’s find out by asking Dr. Victor Ruiz-Velasco.

1. What is a neurophysiologist?

A neurophysiologist studies the chemical and physical processes of the nervous system: the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves throughout the body.

2. How did you decide to become a neurophysiologist?

I wanted to be a veterinarian. Once I was taking pre-vet courses in college, however, I realized that only very few people actually can make it into veterinary schools. I liked the physiology courses I had taken, so I moved into that area.

3. How did you become a neurophysiologist?

I went to graduate school after college. I got a Master’s of Science degree and then a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

4. Where do you work?

I work at the Penn State University College of Medicine as an Assistant Professor.

I just got a promotion to Associate Professor, which will take effect in July.

5. What do you do?

I actually have four or five projects going at any one time. Because what I do is specialized and technical, it can be hard to explain in general terms. Overall, I look at how natural chemicals in the body, such as endorphins and enkephalins, regulate the nervous system. Basically these chemicals bind to places on the nerve cell called “receptors,” and change how the nerve cell works. The chemicals I work with block the movement of calcium and sodium, which reduce nerve transmissions and therefore lessen the sensation of pain.

6. What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

One of the procedures I do regularly is to inject pieces of DNA into individual cells. I link the DNA I am interested in studying to a bit of DNA that codes for a protein that glows fluorescent green. If the DNA I inject is incorporated into the cell correctly, after a short time the cells will glow and I can select those cells for further experiments. I then measure the cell response using a technique called "patch-clamping."

7. There is a stereotype that scientists wear lab coats. Do you wear a lab coat?

No, I never wear a lab coat. I do have to wear a special disposable outfit when I work with the mice and rats.

8. Any advice for students considering neurophysiology as a career?

I think science is a challenging and demanding field, and requires long hours of hard work. You have to be dedicated to succeed.

For more educational information on neurobiology, and particularly the brain, look for Brain Awareness Week activities sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience at http://www.sfn.org/baw/

Edit: Another good site is Neuroscience for Kids

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