Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Debbie Guerrero-Given

September 24, 2021

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, MPFI is showcasing some of our talented researchers of Spanish, Mexican, Caribbean, Central, or South American descent. Today we meet Dr. Debbie Guerrero-Given, a research scientist working in Max Planck Florida’s Electron Microscopy Core. As far back as she can remember, she has always been fascinated with how the human body works. As an electron microscopist and cell morphologist, her job involves studying the anatomy of cells. “There is so much that we still don’t know about the different cells in the brain; who they are; how they communicate with each other; basically, how they work. Using the electron microscope, I get to see how all of this occurs.”

Working in the Electron Microscopy core, Debbie and the EM team work closely with researchers, providing them with expertise and developing techniques to visualize the inner workings of the brain. Her work directly impacts the research, has resulted in several scientific papers. “What I am most proud of in my career is to have contributed to scientific articles that have high impact in the scientific field. To see the publications and say ‘I did that experiment that contributed to prove that hypothesis. I took those images.’”

Debbie credits her family and her Hispanic heritage for her dedication and work ethic, a necessary part of a successful scientific career. “My grandparents, mother, and father all demonstrated a strong work ethic which they passed on to me. This work ethic has served me very well in that it often is necessary to work long hours in order to complete numerous steps associated with the experiments I perform.”

The level of detail and time commitment that comes with EM analysis can be challenging, but Debbie is exhilarated by what she does. “It always amazes me when I am looking at cells in the microscope. Oftentimes, I find myself thinking how awesome it is that I get to see things that not everybody gets to see! Seeing individual proteins distributed on a cell membrane. I mean, how incredible is that?”

As she looks to the future, Debbie hopes to focus on the development of unique techniques to answer challenging scientific questions that can help better understand the complexities of the human body, specifically the brain.  “The advantage of being at MPFI is that it has given me the freedom to try new things, as well as the ability to engage in scientific discussions with top-notch scientists.  I will never forget interacting with Nobel Laureate Dr. Bert Sakmann.  He sat down at the microscope with me and began to explain why he was so interested in a particular region of the brain, along with what he thought the cells in that region were doing. Where else could you possibly get such an opportunity?”