Paula Salgado

I've really enjoyed participating and I'm glad I got to stay right until the end! I never thought I'll make it this far and unfortunetely I am at a workshop all day!... I'll try to asnwer any questions at lunch time, though! so thanks for voting for me and for some great questions - I learned a lot from you guys! Thanks!!! ;-)

Favourite Thing: I get a huge thrill whenever a look at a new protein structure, when I know I’m the first person looking at that shape in real detail.



I went to school in Portugal and Guine-Bissau, in Africa, so you won’t know them!


I did my Biochemistry undergraduate studies at the University of Porto, Portugal (1993-1999) and then did my PhD at University of Oxford (2001-2005/6)

Work History:

I’ve worked at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Porto, Portugal before coming to England to do my PhD. After graduating, I’ve worked at Birkbeck College, University of London.


Imperial College London, Division of Molecular Biosciences

Current Job:

I’m studying proteins from a fungus that make it stick to human cells and cause disease.

Me and my work

I focus on finding out the shape of life’s fundamental molecules: proteins. That’s really important to understand their function and can also help develop targeted drugs to cure and prevent diseases.

Proteins are essential for all life: they are the “machines” in the cell, responsible for all important “jobs” such as copying DNA, maintaining chemical balance, producing energy. For each job, a different protein is needed with a different shape. So, understanding the shape of proteins allows us understand their function and can help us design better drugs, develop new ways to attack diseases and, overall, better understand how life works.

In order to find out the shape (we call it “structure”) of proteins, we use a technique called protein crystallography. Basically, we grow crystals of proteins (like diamonds, but in a very, very small scale) myimage1 and then shine X-rays on them.




Instead of a nice picture of the protein, like when you break your arm and have your bones X-rayed, we get lots of pictures, full of little dots that relate to the position of the atoms in the protein. myimage2







We then use computers and maths to reconstruct a nice model of our protein structure. myimage3

Lately, I’ve been studying proteins from a fungus that can cause infections in humans. These proteins are at the surface of the fungus cells and can “stick” to our cells, causing disease. Our hypothesis is that if we know how they stick to human cells, we can try and develop drugs that can prevent that and therefore cure or prevent infections. 

My Typical Day

It varies… a combination of being at the computer analysing data and checking emails, going to the lab to prepare protein samples and grow crystals, as well as co-supervise students, discuss projects with my superiors and help other colleagues.

My days vary considerably, depending at what stage of the work I am. At the start of a project we need to produce pure protein, so I’ll spend most days at the bench preparing buffers, solutions and setting up trays. myimage4









Once I’ve prepared the trays, have to look at all of them at the microscope myimage5 to check if crystals have grown so I can test if they diffract, that is, if they produce the little dots we can then interpret. myimage6










At later stages of the project, I have to go and collect data and those days are quite different. I have to travel to special X-ray generators called synchrotrons myimage7 to collect data. There are several in Europe: one near Oxford, two in France (near Paris and in the south, in Grenoble) and one in Switzerland. So I do get to travel around a bit. However, these are usually quick trips, just 24h to collect our data and back home to analyse the data.




I’ll then spend most of day at the computer analysing the data, looking at what we call electron density maps that are visual representations of where atoms in the protein are myimage8.




Amongst all this, I also have to keep up to date with literature, check my emails, discuss the progress of the project with the head of the group and help supervise students, from undergraduates doing their final year project to master and PhD students. I also help other colleagues with their projects. 

It all seems a bit hectic – and sometimes it is! – but I love all aspects of what I do and I must say my days are rarely boring!

What I'd do with the money

I’d like to organize a Scientific speed networking event, where you get a chance to meet several scientists and ask qustions face-to-face – all in 5 min! ;-)

The idea is simple: adopting the “speed dating” format to talk about science. I’ve thought of 2 different formats: one where scientists will meet a non-scientist audience (events could be organised for students and other audiences). Each scientist would have 5min to explain their research and answer 3 questions and then people are swapped around. At the end of the event, people should be more aware of what kind of research is being done.

Its a simple and fun way to communicate science that will hopefully appeal to all audiences. 

The prize would help with all logistics to organize such event.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Dynamic, Persistent (others would say stubborn, but you get the idea), Trustworthy

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Too many to choose from… guess David Bowie always makes the top 5 list

What is the most fun thing you've done?

I’ve done amateur drama for many years and that’s always great fun

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Make a scientific discovery that provides a cure for a major disease; have a nice house by the sea; have the time to travel around the world

What did you want to be after you left school?

Actress… and scientist! Hey, I got to do both! :-D

Were you ever in trouble at school?

Not seriously – but I did talk a bit too much and got told off about it

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Any new structure is exciting!

Tell us a joke.

What does the ocean say to a penguin? Nothing, it just waves…