Mind And Body Researcher Started Training At Age 5.
University of Southern California bioengineer Francisco Valero-Cuevas heads the university’s Brain-Body Dynamics Lab.
Credit: Chad Louie.

Editor's Note: ScienceLives is an occasional series that puts scientists under the microscope to find out what makes them tick. The series is a cooperation between the National Science Foundation and LiveScience.

Name: Francisco Valero-Cuevas
Age: 44
Institution: University of Southern California
Field of Study: Engineering, neuromuscular systems, rehabilitation

Bioengineer Francisco Valero-Cuevas of the Brain-Body Dynamics Lab at the University of Southern California studies the complex interplay between our mind and body, the control systems for our most dexterous tasks. Recently, he and his colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Neuroscience that suggests activities combining movement and force tax our brains to capacity, countering a long-held belief that difficulty with dexterous tasks results from the limits of the muscles themselves. The findings may help explain why minor damage to the neuromuscular system can at times profoundly affect one's ability to complete everyday tasks. Read more about Valero-Cuevas’s work here and here, and read his answers to the ScienceLives 10 Questions below.

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What inspired you to choose this field of study?
The amazing mechanical versatility of animals, which engineering is only beginning to understand and replicate.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
To always look for a job that you love to do.

What was your first scientific experiment as a child?
At age 5, I would "train" insects to withstand the rigors of space flight. They had centrifugal training and suborbital flights in plasticine capsules, with sugar as survival rations in case it took me time to find them if the string broke. I would also grow radishes in my garden to see how flowers produced seeds.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist or researcher?
That I am free to be creative.

What is the most important characteristic a scientist must demonstrate in order to be an effective scientist?
Curiosity and enthusiasm are at the top of my list.

What are the societal benefits of your research?
To understand how our brain controls our body, so that we know how disease affects function, how rehabilitation can restore function, and how to build truly versatile machines.

Who has had the most influence on your thinking as a researcher?
My father always supported my curiosity.

What about your field or being a scientist do you think would surprise people the most?
How fundamental concepts of mathematics help us understand biological systems.

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office or lab, what
would it be?

My students!

What music do you play most often in your lab or car?

I prefer silence to think.