AlphaFold and Kathryn Tunyasuvunakool: Unlocking Protein Secrets

Predicting the structure of proteins

Kathryn Tunyasuvunakool, a daughter of Kathryn Tunyasuvunakool, grew up in a home where her mother conducted scientific experiments. Her mother went to college a few short years after Kathryn was born. Tunyasuvunakool’s mother was standing by a pendulum that hung from the ceiling of her home. She was timing its swings as part of a science project. Her mother inspected the patterns of fossils on her dining table for a science report. Tunyasuvunakool’s early exposure to the world of science made her believe that science is fun and a career as a scientist was attainable. \”I was always desperate to be a scientist and go to college,\” says Tunyasuvunakool.

Tunyasuvunakool achieved this goal by studying mathematics as an undergraduate and computational biology as graduate student. She helped develop a model to capture the various aspects of the development of Caenorhabditis Elegans, an organism that is studied by both physicists and biologists. She developed a passion for programming which led her to pursue a career in software engineering. Today Tunyasuvunakool is part of the team behind DeepMind’s AlphaFold–a protein-structure-prediction tool. Physics Magazine interviewed her to learn more about the software that recently won two of its creators a Breakthrough Prize and why she is excited about the potential discoveries this tool could enable.

All interviews have been edited to ensure clarity and brevity.