Curt Spanis, PhD

Curt Spanis
Phone: (619) 260-4084
Office: Shiley Ctr for Science & Techn 371

Professor, Biology

  • Ph.D., University of California, Los Angeles; Cell Physiology
  • M.A., University of California, Los Angeles; Cell Physiology
  • B.A., Queens University, Canada; Biochemistry/Biology
  • Honorary Diploma, Sociedad Mexicana de Psiquiatria Biologica, A.C. Mexico; Biological Psychiatry
  • Graduate, Toronto Teachers College 
  • State of California Junior College Teachers Credential

Curt W. Spanis, PhD, has been a member of the faculty since 1965, serving as professor and department of Biology chair  at the College for Men and president of the Faculty Association prior to unification in 1972.  Following unification of the colleges Spanis served as department chair for two years. Spanis has taught biochemistry, cell physiology, genetics, microbiology, neurobiology, introductory biology, human biology, and exercise physiology.  He established the Pre-Med/ Health Sciences program and directed it for more than two decades. Also, he served as band director, tennis coach (both mens and womens teams) and established the USD Tennis Camp. Spanis has taught a graduate course in cell and molecular biology.

Scholarly Work

Spanis's research dealt initially, in plant pathology. He published as an undergraduate at Queen's University on a serious problem of the pulp industry in Canada caused by a fungus Fomes igniarius. His doctoral publications dealt with a bacteria which he discovered that was able to detoxify mercurial fungicides.  That work is current today and he consults with major companies on problems with heavy metal contaminants that are a part of world-wide pollution problems. He has worked on the intermediary metabolism of a bacteria capable of degrading hydrocarbons. He worked at the University of Miami, in marine microbiology.

At USD, Spanis switched his main drive to the study of memory. Of his 61 publications, two-thirds are on the how memories are formed.  His work was based on use of pharmaceutical techniques. Currently he deploys electrophysiological parameters- essentially tracing the firing patterns of brain neurons following stimulations in the CA3, CA1 regions of the hippocampus and tracing pathways through the mossy fibers to possible storage sites outside the hippocampus.  As Spanis insists: "Without memory human life is void."

He collaborates with colleagues at University of Texas at San Antonio and University of California, Los Angeles and formerly at the Veterans Affairs in La Jolla and heavily, at the Center for Leaning and Memory at University of California, Irvine.

Areas of Interest

Spanis now teaches exercise physiology,  human physiology and neurobiology. The exercise physiology course is designed to allow students to examine their own physiological parameters, ie cardiology, pulmonary functions, reaction rates of nervous system and skeletomuscular systems. The main purpose is to allow students to understand these functions, thus permitting them to perform better in the work place. Spanis insists on learning by doing. This course is very popular and consistently has long waiting lists for entrance. Spanis is a neuroscientist and presents in his human physiology and neurobiology course specializations based on his research on memory.