Finding Viral Art

By:
Jeffrey Javier, David Scott Allen photo
Emma Paunil

Emma Paunil is passionate about researching viruses, and an Honors College grant is helping her take her passion to the next level. 

“I want to really dive deep into viruses,” she says. “Viruses fascinate me because there are types of viruses in our world that are beneficial rather than harmful.” 

Paunil is a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Honors College senior studying veterinary science and biochemistry. She’s a recipient of the donor-supported Spirit of Inquiry grant, which enables honors students to pursue research projects of their own design under the guidance of a faculty member.    

Paunil immediately latched onto the idea of researching viruses. 

“I find viruses geometrically beautiful. Viruses are art and I just really hope to learn more and discover everything that I can possibly find about viruses and how they travel from species to species,” Paunil says.  

She has reached out to various graduate students for access to animal samples. She hopes that her analysis will reveal clusters of viruses common in desert animals, such as lizards, rodents and hawks. Paunil says she dreams of going to Oxford so that she can study a specific family of viruses related to measles. 

Thomas Wilson is an Honors College associate professor and Paunil’s honors thesis adviser. He acts as a sounding board for Paunil, providing feedback and support.   

“She is very, very motivated and she will do very well in whatever direction she chooses,” Wilson says. “I’m excited to see what she accomplishes in the future.”  

Paunil says she wouldn’t be able to pursue her research project without the support she received from the grant. The Honors College is raising funds for an endowment to support the Spirit of Inquiry program in perpetuity. 

“I want to thank the donors who supported me through the Spirit of Inquiry,” Paunil says. “In essence, this grants me the freedom to think and dream, and I am so grateful.”

‘I find viruses geometrically beautiful. Viruses are art and I just really hope to learn more and discover everything that I can possibly find about viruses and how they travel from species to species.’