Mariana Vargas

Favourite Thing: Outside science: Mangoes. In Science: To be able to record the activity of brain cells in real time, and to replay the nicest bits in slow “motion” (so that I can see what happens even during a millisecond!).

Me and my work

My work is about how we store and retrieve memories in our brains.

I am interested in how synapses (connections between brain cells) work and how they get stronger with learning (at least that is the theory! but there is still a lot we don’t know about how the brain stores memories).
Also, I aim to understand why synapses can’t get stronger when exposed to amyloid beta, a molecule which accumulates in the brain of Alzheimer’s disease patients.
I have used  brain tissue from rats and mice to study how their synapses work, using a technique called electrophysiology. and I will soon be learning new techniques in animal behaviour that will help me measure how well a mouse can learn and what are the synaptic mechanisms involved in learning (all procedures I have ever used are approved by the Home Office Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

This is the website of the laboratory where I currently work:


My Typical Day

I have two kinds of days at work: Experimental days and analysis/writing days…

– Experimental days: On these, I first get my cells ready to be recorded, then I get to look at them with the microscope and finally to actually see their activity (this is the most exciting bit of the day!). myimage1 myimage3
– Analysis/writing days: I get to sit at my computer and look at my data, and do some statistics to start putting it all together. Then I make decisions about future experiments or perhaps decide when I’m ready to write my results for publication (this is a very exciting part!). 

Also we have weekly meetings with the lab group where discuss the  latest scientific papers from other laboratories around the world and to hear what the labmates have been up to in their own research.



What I'd do with the money

I would donate it to my local secondary school to contribute to their Science activities such as their Science Speaker series (maybe they would invite me ;).

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Latin blooded scientist.

Who is your favourite singer or band?

I like Manu Chao, and I love the cheesy Abba songs.

What is the most fun thing you've done?

To learn to ski! (although it was a bit scary to start with)

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. To live past 100 years of age in good health 2. To win the lotery (although I never play… so it is impossible) 3. To do a round-the-world trip

What did you want to be after you left school?

When I was about 12 I wanted to be a radio presenter… but after that I always wanted to be a scientist! I chose to study Biology, and I loved it, specially all the field trips where I got to see mountains, jungle, sea and desert in Mexico. At the end of my degree I opted for lab based research because of the scientific questions that interested me the most.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Not really. I was always pretty well behaved.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I think my biggest discovery is yet to come :), so I think the best thing I’ve done so far is to teach and to train new students in the lab, and to give them confidence in doing their own experiments.

Tell us a joke.

A man walks into a bar, and asks for a pint of adenosine tri-phosphate The barman says “That’ll be 80p (ATP) please” :)