Meet Thiago Arzua (He/Him)! Thiago works at Medical College of Wisconsin (@MedicalCollege) in the USA but is originally from Brazil!
What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a neuroscientist and aspiring science communicator. Currently, our lab focuses on early neurodevelopment (how your brain is created) and what can affect that development.
The coolest thing about the science I’m doing is using stem-cell based models, specifically models called cerebral organoids, or ‘mini brains’. These can mimic a lot of the features we see in the early brain, and since they are 3D we can also study their structure and how drugs can affect them.
“Like the proverbial fishes that don’t know they’re in the water, I only realized I was indeed Brazilian once I immigrated to the US.”Thiago Arzua
What made you want to become a scientist?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single moment, but I do remember getting my first toy microscope and telescope when I was very young. I was always curious about basically everything, but especially our body and brain, and (for some reason) also stars and galaxies. While my mom wasn’t thrilled that I was taking apart half of our house, she was super supportive and gave me science books since before I could read.
One day in grade school, I learned that scientists were real people and my “hobby” of tearing down electronics and putting them under the microscope was (to some extent) a possible job. Jump forward a few years, and I realize that between astrophysics and neuroscience, I could see myself doing the latter much more easily. To be honest, I never stopped thinking about space though.
What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
Like the proverbial fishes that don’t know they’re in the water, I only realized I was indeed Brazilian once I immigrated to the US. I come from a privileged and coddled background in Brazil, so moving here forced me to re-evaluate my own culture, and in a sense turned me into an underrepresented minority. Being an international student keeps you asynchronous: constantly trying to keep up with the news and the cultural moments of two countries, assimilating a new culture, while still understanding and trying to keep your own. While that can be exhausting, it also brings a diversity of thought and abilities that I now appreciate much more. In a sense, the challenges and barriers that came with being a foreign scientist made me much more resourceful and appreciative of how different cultures all have their place in science.
What’s something cool you do outside of work?
For a few years I have been doing triathlons, slowly but surely. Much like science they require a weird type of dedication and persistence. Swimming, biking, and running for endless hours takes your mind away from every failed experiment or weird result in the lab.
“The idea that millions of scientists around the world should all look, act and think the same way is not just plain wrong, but it’s also dangerous.”Thiago Arzua
If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I would change the stigmas–that science is hard, that it is only for certain people, or that scientists should be awkward and unsociable. The idea that millions of scientists around the world should all look, act and think the same way is not just plain wrong, but it’s also dangerous.
Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
I am truly lucky to have had amazing teachers and mentors. My 7th-grade science teacher (Gonzaga), and my physics (Marlon) and sociology (Leo) teachers in high school were all absolutely incredible. In college I started research a month or so into my freshman year, and I had mentors (Drs. Zhang, Jin, Grieco, and Pollenz) who were able to turn all my excitement and passion for science into valuable lessons and contributions. All in all, I have always been inspired by the people surrounding me much more than celebrity scientists or historical figures.
“I’m a neuroscientist and aspiring science communicator. Currently, our lab focuses on early neurodevelopment (how your brain is created) and what can affect that development.”Thiago Arzua
Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I am mentoring! ME! Our lab is hosting two summer students and they have been following me all week and I love every second. Having “younger” people around changes the mood in the lab, and having to explain my steps and the reasoning behind experiments is already forcing me to be more organized and more thoughtful.
Editor’s Note: The #UniqueTeam thanks Thiago for kindly translating our Submission Form to Portuguese!
#LatinxInSTEM, #InternationalSTEM, #BrazilianInSTEM