(June 14, 2018) – Brian Derrick, a professor of neurobiology in the Department of Biology and an investigator in the UTSA Neurosciences Institute, passed away earlier this week. Derrick’s areas of specialization included cognitive neuroscience, molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and neuropsychopharmacology.
“Brian was passionate and committed to his work,” said Edwin Barea-Rodriguez, associate dean in the College of Sciences and Roland K. and Jane W. Blumberg Professor in Biosciences. “He was a learner. He could cite references and remember studies like you couldn’t believe; he was like a database.”
Derrick joined the UTSA faculty in 1996, at the same time as Barea and their mentor, former Ewing Halsell Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience Joseph L. Martinez Jr. Both Derrick and Barea had worked as postdoctoral students in Martinez’s laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, where they studied learning and memory as processes of synaptic plasticity, the ability of the brain to change in response to experience or information.
Derrick also earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in psychology at Berkeley after earning a bachelor’s degree in psychobiology at UCLA.
As a graduate student, Derrick intended to focus solely on research but, after working as a teaching assistant to support his studies, also became interested in instruction. At UTSA, he taught both first-year and upper-division courses, which were popular with students, said Barea. Derrick regularly taught UTSA’s course on neuropsychopharmacology, which examines the effects of drugs on the brain, and emphasized the development of critical thinking skills in his students. He mentored several graduate and undergraduate students and coached students to participate in the annual Brain Bowl, an intercollegiate neuroscience knowledge competition held at UT Health San Antonio.
“He was a very popular teacher; students loved him,” said Barea. “He treasured science, but he treasured students, too.”
In an interview last fall, Derrick said of his role as a teacher: “Simply helping a student define and realize their goals is enough. It’s more rewarding than any of my publications were.”
Derrick’s own research focused on long-term potentiation and long-term depression—respectively, the strengthening and weakening of synapses between nerve cells that contribute to memory formation and forgetting. His work, which received more than 1,500 citations, was published in prestigious journals including “Nature,” “Nature Neuroscience,” “Journal of Neuroscience,” and “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
“He made many scientific contributions to the field of neuroscience but perhaps the most significant one was to show that associative and cooperative rules of plasticity, which are also necessary for learning, were the same in different regions of the hippocampus, an area involved in the formation of new memories,” said colleague Isabel Muzzio, associate professor of biology. “This work was an important breakthrough because it demonstrated that, despite the diversity in receptor expression across different brain regions, the principles that govern plasticity are ubiquitous.”
In the same interview he gave last fall, Derrick said his life’s work was largely inspired by this Tennessee Williams quote: “Life is all memory, except for the one present moment that goes by you so quickly you hardly catch it going.”
“I take that to mean ‘living in the moment’ is a pipe dream,” said Derrick. “All we have, now and in the end, are memories.”
Muzzio said UTSA students regarded Derrick as an outstanding educator and he was well respected by his colleagues for his teaching and research, as well as his innumerable service contributions.
“His passing is a great loss for all students, faculty and our institution,” she said.
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.Radius Center, 411 E. Martin, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
The annual event features authentic foods, music, dance, martial arts, shopping, games and entertainment from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific. The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
UTSA Libraries will host Bryan Gervais, UTSA assistant professor in the Dept. of Political Science & Geography, for his presentation "Political Incivility in the Digital Age." Pizza will be provided to UTSA students while supplies last.John Peace Library Assembly Room (JPL 4.04.22)
Level up your career with a graduate business degree from the UTSA College of Business. Join us for this Open House to learn which of our 13 degree programs is right for you.Business Building (BB 2.06.04), Main Campus
Basura Bash is a one-day, all-volunteer event to clean the San Antonio Watershed. For the past 24 years volunteers have cleaned area waterways. Join the UTSA community for the 25th Annual Basura Bash Waterways Cleanup.Maverick Creek, near Brackenridge Ave. Lot 5, Main Campus
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