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Fidel Santamaria
Fidel Santamaria

UTSA First-Year Faculty: Assistant Professor Fidel Santamaria

By Lydia Fletcher
Special Projects Writer, UTSA '07

(Aug. 10, 2007)--Fidel Santamaria, UTSA assistant professor of computation and neural systems, received his bachelor of science degree in physics from Mexico National University (UNAM).

He earned a Ph.D. in computation and neural systems at California Institute of Technolgy, before he did postdoctoral research at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

He joined the UTSA Department of Biology in January 2007.

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LF: Why did you come to UTSA?

FS: I arrived in January of this year. The computational neuroscience group here is expanding rapidly and it has great potential to become a great institution.

LF: Where did you come from?

FS: From Duke University in North Carolina.

LF: What research are you doing?

FS: My research is trying to understand from a biophysical point of view how biochemical reactions take place in living neurons... to understand how we process information and how we can memorize and recall stuff.

LF: What kind of application does that have?

FS: One application that I want to look at in the future is the creation of computers that are made of unreliable components. For example, now every single piece of a computer is very reliable, but whenever one of the components breaks down, the entire computer is useless. In neurons and in brains you can lose a chunk of your brain and still be functional.

The biochemical reactions that happen in single neurons are made up of random components, but they are very efficient at transforming information from the outside world to whatever we want to think, and then do something about it.

Although the fundamental concepts that I study are applicable to all neurons, I have done most of my work in the cerebellum. This part of the brain is a fascinating area to study because of its involvement in sensory acquisition, motor learning, disease and higher cognitive functions.

LF: What courses are you teaching at UTSA?

FS: Right now I'm not teaching -- I'm just doing research. But in January of 2008 I'm going to start to teach the computational neuroscience courses.

LF: How are you enjoying the research atmosphere at UTSA?

FS: It's great... it's what I was looking for. It's very quiet right now, my lab, because I don't have any students, but it's good.

I have been setting up a computational and experimental lab that focuses on integrating electrophysiological, imaging and structural observations of neurons into detailed biophysical models. My lab is initially using the cerebellum as a model system. However, we will actively seek the extension of our findings into other areas of the nervous system.

LF: Do you think you'll have student assistants in the future?

FS: Right now I am setting up the lab, so it's good that I've been by myself so students don't waste their time just cleaning the lab. But, yes, I am going to be looking actively for graduate students and undergraduate students as well.

LF: Outside of your research, what is your favorite hobby and book?

FS: My favorite author now is Haruki Murakami; he is a Japanese author... excellent. I live in the King William district, so I like to go out and work on the deck of my house.

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