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Valeria Vásquez

was raised in Caracas, Venezuela.

Her father is a geologist and shared his love of sci-

ence with her starting when she was very little. “I

could listen forever to him talk about every single

mountain formation while we were on road trips

in Venezuela,” she shares. Vásquez also admires

her mother, who worked with underprivileged

children throughout her career as a kindergar-

ten teacher. Vásquez became enamored with the

scientific process as an elementary school student.

“My school held a yearly science festival where

we had to work in teams to develop a scientific

project that would be presented at the end of each

year,” she says. “My best friend’s mother, who was

an engineer, chaperoned us throughout the year

and taught us how to apply the scientific method.

Formulating hypotheses and designing experi-

mental plans hooked me immediately.”

Vásquez completed her undergraduate studies at

the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas.

She then went on to pursue her PhD in the lab


Eduardo Perozo

at the University of Virginia,

Charlottesville, completing her studies in 2008.

While she was working in Perozo’s lab, Vásquez


José Faraldo-Gómez


Sudha Chakrapani


with whom she has remained friends over the

years. Vásquez served as Faraldo-Gómez’s men-

tor while he did wet lab work for a short time in

Perozo’s lab. “Valeria is an outstanding scientist

with an excellent training in biophysics and

biochemistry—but she is also a wonderful person

with a very positive disposition and the right tem-

perament for a career in science,” he says. “What I

remember the most about spending time with her

in the lab is how careful, thoughtful, and hard-

working she is. [Also] her homemade arepas are

phenomenal, particularly combined with copious

amounts of Rioja.”

Chakrapani recalls her time working with Vásquez

fondly. “Valeria was a lot of fun to work with. She

is a well-rounded person, brilliant, meticulous,

and extremely passionate about science, politics,

and her family,” she says. “She is very insightful,

full of new ideas, and absolutely relentless when

it comes to trying new approaches to study a very

difficult scientific problem.”

For her postdoctoral research, she worked in the

lab of

Miriam B. Goodman

at Stanford Univer-

sity. “We identified arachidonic acid-containing

phospholipids as crucial modulators of touch

sensitivity in

C. elegans

touch receptor neurons,”

Vásquez says.

She is now an assistant professor in the Depart-

ment of Physiology at the University of Tennessee

Health Science Center in Memphis. “My current

research is centered on understanding ion channel

function of mechanosensitive channels using two

main avenues: (1) in vivo approaches to study

the effect of bioactive lipids on channel function

using the animal model

C. elegans

, and (2) in

vitro biochemical and biophysical approaches to

elucidate the mechanisms of ion channel activa-

tion and identify lipids that directly modulate

their function,” she explains.

Vásquez credits several people in her life for

helping lead her to this particular area of study.

The first was her husband,

Julio Cordero-Morales


“Since we were in college he was — and still is —

super passionate about ion channels and excitable

cells. He would always tell our trainees, ‘There is

nothing more exciting than looking at an enzyme

to work in real time,’ like we do when we patch

clamp,” she says. “My friend and collaborator

Boris Martinac

taught me how to patch clamp

spheroplasts while studying mechanosensitive

ion channels. My PhD advisor Eduardo Perozo

taught me that without dynamics, structures are

just snapshots. Miriam Goodman taught me that

the in vivo context always matters.”

The most rewarding aspect of her work is the

sharing and exchange of information. “I get to

learn from everyone, whether they are in my field

or not,” she explains. “What I like the most is

discussing ideas with labmates and colleagues to

challenge and/or postulate hypotheses. It is very

rewarding to find something new and exciting,

whether it goes with or against my hypothesis.”

Vásquez faced challenges related to her work–

family balance during her postdoctoral fellowship.

“The biggest challenge so far was coming back

to the lab after a two-month maternity leave.

Biophysicist in Profile


Valeria Vásquez