From Curious Kid to Virologist

Virologist Jesús Emanuel Brunetti's journey began just like many of his high school students: in a poor neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

The streets were run down. Bars covered the windows of houses with peeling paint. But Brunetti's brown eyes held a glimmer of hope and curiosity.

His mother, who did not finish high school because she needed to work to help her family, encouraged he and his brother to invest in their education.
Brunetti as a child
As a child, Brunetti experimented at home, without even realizing he was masterminding mini science experiments. He would find things around the house and take them apart, so he could piece them back together. He mixed ingredients together in the kitchen, such as water and oil, just to see what they would do. He even once put a hair clip into an electrical socket, sparking a fire in the house.

"My mom wanted to kill me," Brunetti said of the curious incident.

But his mom still supported him in his self-made learning endeavors. And in school, his biology teacher encouraged him to consider science as a path, entering him in the International Biology Olympiad, a worldwide competition for high school students, based on a series of difficult exams.
Brunetti defending thesis
"I had to study a lot," Brunetti said as he used his hands to show the thickness of the textbooks he had to use.

The road from his poor Argentine neighborhood led to Brunetti earning a PhD in biochemistry from the University of Buenos Aires in 2019. And that road led to an interest in solving problems.

Brunetti's thesis revolved around trying to learn more about the Junín virus, which causes Argentine hemorrhagic fever. The virus is endemic to certain parts of Argentina, particularly agricultural areas, since the 1950s. It spreads via rodent droppings and kills between 20 and 30 percent of the people who contract it, which often is agricultural workers. There's a vaccine, but no cure.

"It's an unsolved problem here in Argentina," said Brunetti.

But Brunetti wants to take on another problem, one related to science in a different way.
Brunetti as a child Brunetti teaches chemistry and biology at both the high school and college level, but he has found that his younger students struggle with being in a poor neighborhood. They think that is all they have and they don't see science as a pathway to a better life, one that could make the world around them a better place.

"It is important to study science to solve problems," Brunetti said.

So he is trying to find a way to reach those students and show them that there is potential beyond their run-down streets.

Brunetti was chosen to take part in the first ever Humboldt-IJP Communication Lab for Exchange between Research and Media, held virtually in June of 2020. Through that lab, he teamed up with a journalist to use his own journey as a springboard for his students, through a "choose your own adventure"-style online interactive, which is featured below.

Every journey begins with a step. And Brunetti hopes this step will lead to more Argentinian students becoming interested in science.

You've read about Brunetti's journey. Now, it's time to take your own. Start your journey.