Professor Scarlet Shell says the moment of scientific discovery is a thrill like no other and keeps her going when the inevitable failures come along.

Scarlet Shell hopes her studies of bacteria can help stop some of the world’s most prevalent infectious diseases.

Why did you pick the branch of science you are in?

I became fascinated with DNA and genes in college. Then studying abroad in Kenya brought me face-to-face with the reality that infectious diseases are still a major cause of death in many parts of the world. So now I study the molecular genetics of bacteria, including those that cause tuberculosis. 

What are the biggest misperceptions people have about scientists?

That we are somehow smarter or different from non-scientists. Each branch of science has its own language, and scientists are just regular people who happened to spend a long time learning one of those languages. 

What’s something you do that reminds you that you are an #ActualLivingScientist?

It’s exhilarating to see the results of a successful experiment and know that I have just learned something that no one else has known before in the history of the world. That excitement is what keeps me going through the long stretches when the experiments aren’t working.

I am a scientist and I...

...believe science has the power to help everyone on this planet, whether they know it and believe in it or not.

How do you hope your scientific contributions will impact the world?

I hope that the knowledge we gain about how bacteria respond to stressful conditions will ultimately help the broader scientific community to develop better ways to both tackle pathogenic bacteria and harness the power of beneficial bacteria.

How has WPI helped you prepare students to become an #ActualLivingScientist?

WPI gives me so many platforms to train the next generation of scientists, from the classroom to my lab and in between. My department just launched a new lab course that is based on my research. The students in the course are learning cutting-edge molecular biology techniques while addressing open research questions that arose from my work. I can’t wait to see what they discover!