Tuesday, June 24, 2014



Not all Hispanics in the US are cooks, dancers, singers, actors, politicians, language teachers, journalists or gardeners… some are also scientists, top-notch scientists, mind you, contrary to the prevailing preconceived idea of the Latino as a person unsuited for science and scientific research. That notion flies in the face of reality.
More than any other country, the US is the land where the stereotype flourishes, where there is a tendency to slot nationalities according to age-long, worn-out ideas and definitions. Hispanics do not escape the notion that Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, German-Americans, Greek-Americans –to name a few- have inherited from their immigrant grandparents or parents who, this way, feel important and have a better sense of belonging to a land their forefathers  reached after abandoning their “old country”, as they used to call their land of origin. Stereotyping others makes them feel important.

Some examples of Hispanic Scientists in the U.S.

Dr. José Manuel Rodríguez Delgado, late professor of physiology at Yale University became famous for research in the physical control of the brain. His book Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society, is still a must. He was born in Spain and died in California in 2011. His experiment with a bull with electrode implants in its brain which was stopped in its tracks while charging, became world famous.

In 1959 the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to Dr. Severo Ochoa who, after doing research at Oxford and Heilderberg in Germany, in 1942 was appointed professor at Columbia University.

Columbia University’s Dr. Rafael Yuste, “professor of biological sciences and neuroscience, is a leader of the Brain Activity Map Project, a massive effort to create a dynamic map of the mind. Its aim is to reconstruct a full record of neural activity, which could unlock fundamental and pathological brain processes.” (Research, Columbia University, Feb. 26, 2013.) 

Born in Madrid in 1963, Dr. Yuste graduated with an MD degree from the Universidad Autónoma and later obtained a Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. He is now Full Professor at Columbia University’s Department of Biological Sciences, and the Department of Neuroscience at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia’s Medical Center.

Dr. Rafael Yuste has been tapped to advise the White House on brain study, on the “butterflies of the soul”, as Dr. Santiago Ramón y Cajal so poetically called neurons, brain cells.

“An intrepid mountain climber, who has scaled Monte Perdido in the Spanish Pyrenees, he likens this sport with scientific research: Assemble a skilled team, get the best equipment, map the route and proceed with slow, deliberate steps. By walking up very securely, step by step, and not losing track of the summit, you can get there.” (Research, June 23, 2011.) This piece of advice by a hard scientist could very well be applied to other pursuits in life in general: Slog through your work and reach the summit, the goal of your endeavors, come what may. 

Neurologists do not know how the brain works, but they are trying to disentangle its mysteries. Along with other researchers, Yuste is working on the Brain Activity Map, dedicated to map the activity of each neuron. This project will take time, effort and money. “At the end of the project, Dr. Yuste says there should be a greater understanding of the causes of depression, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy and schizophrenia. Causes that are currently unknown.” (Kristina Puga, NBCLatino, 02/22/2013) No small feat trying to unlock those mysteries.

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