Hi blair (are you related to Tony?) – thanks for the question.
Although I studied physics, the part of the course that really excited me in my 3rd year was learning biophysics – basically how physical methods (such as X-ray scattering) can be used to investigate biological problems.
In particular I remember learning about the structure and mechanism of haemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that binds oxygen and helps to deliver it from the lungs to all parts of the body.
I was amazed to learn that haemoglobin is a really intricate machine that responds not just to the external oxygen concentration by also to local concentrations of carbon dioxide and the pH.
From then on I was pretty much hooked on molecular and structural biology. But I also wanted there to be a practical side to my science which is why I got into studying viruses such as poliovirus and foot-and-mouth disease virus. (Believe it or not, although they cause very different disease, these two viruses are very closely related to one another!)
Most of the work that we do – to reveal the structures of proteins from these viruses or of proteins that viruses recruit to help them from infected cells – is fundamental biology, but there is some hope that it will lead to new ways to treat or control viral diseases.
My science is therefore driven by an odd mixture of pure curiosity and a desire to do something useful. Sometimes I wonder if I have the balance right but one of the wonderfully unpredictable things about science is that you can never really know beforehand how useful the results of even the most basic investigations can be. (The inventor of the laser couldn’t think of what it might be any good for!)
One of the things that has impressed me in the live-chats is the focus from you guys on questions about using science to do things to help the world, such as cure diseases or to tackle pollution. That has certainly made me think about these things anew.