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Felix Alfonso focuses on making connections inside—and outside—the brain

Felix Alfonso, a graduate student in the Dept. of Chemistry, is a trainee in the Stanford ChEM-H Chemistry/Biology Interface (CBI) Program, a NSF-GRFP fellow and a DARE fellow.

My Stanford experience is defined by the connections I’ve made. Having a diverse community allows us to see the world from different perspectives, and through connections with others we can develop new ideas, passions, and directions to pursue. I have learned so much from the people I’ve met through the CBI Program. I value and cherish the connections I’ve made through Stanford ChEM-H.

Photo of Felix Alfonso

My research focuses on developing tools to visualize the electrical connections between cells in the brain so we can better understand the processes that go on every time we think. The brain eludes me in its ability to create, distort, reconstruct, and find patterns. It’s kind of squishy like gelatin and looks a little weird, but there's so much information and life packed into it.

The most amazing part about the brain is that while individual neurons have interesting properties, they really shine in a big interconnected network. We can think of these networks as circuits because each cell passes electricity through itself and into cells around it as a way of communicating, like an electric conversation. In my research, I am developing a tool for scientists to see and measure this electrical activity. I use an electrochromic material — electro meaning electricity and chromic meaning color — to see this electrical activity. When in contact with neurons, the material’s color changes depending on if the cell is electrically charged or discharged. We can use this method to study larger networks of cell’s than are practical with existing methods, and we don’t disrupt the cell’s normal functions to do so. I want to understand how each circuit of neurons communicates, and harness that knowledge to build toward a model of the whole brain.

As scientists, we are observers trying to find a little bit of truth in the world and spreading that knowledge so everyone can enjoy its beauty.  I hope to understand just a little piece of the brain, maybe revealing a little bit of what it means to be alive.

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