Emma Brown

Talking about
Researching a protein in Zika virus

I’m researching Zika virus – specifically a single protein and its role – and using computational biology to simulate it in different environments. By modelling it on a computer first, I can take that into the lab and modify those things in the lab, and create a proof of principle to show what interactions happen.

I use Advanced Research Computers, or supercomputers – the University of Leeds has three of them. They’re really big, they take up rooms.

When you're researching, you're doing things for a wide audience. In terms of the research world out there, you're trying to persuade them that your hypothesis is right, so you want to get your data out and show that. It gets more exciting as you try to prove what you're doing is right.  

Trying different ways of doing things is exciting – you're working with the best of the best. If you don't know about something, then you can go and find somebody who does it all the time and ask them how to approach it, and there's plenty of people who'll help you.

We have early career opportunities talks, and people working in industry come in and talk to us about transferable skills, such as giving presentations. I gave a talk at the Microbiology Society conference, and that was to just under 100 people. That’s really improved my self-confidence. I've also taught undergraduate students about how to use equipment in the lab. It makes you realise how much knowledge you’ve absorbed and how you've developed.

It's fascinating that what you're doing could have a big impact at some point. With the protein that I'm researching, I don't know anybody else who's researching that. That’s good, because sometimes people are competing against each other to be the first to discover something. Hopefully my research will have an influence on what people know about Zika virus and the lifecycle, and how we can target it with antivirals.