Skip to main content

5 Things About Me: Virologist Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer

Virologist Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer, a genealogy hobbyist, has traced her paternal linage back to 1600. (Photo: Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer)

Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer
Research Virologist
United States Air Force Research Laboratory
Brooks City-Base, Texas

Background: My expertise is in viral and cellular receptor interaction; however, I am currently conducting applied research related to the decontamination of viral pathogens located on military equipment.

Question 1: Why did you become a scientist?
Answer: I have always been interested in the biological sciences.  I can remember that, as a child, I was always observing insects, birds, and other animals and being intrigued by animal behavior.  Bird watching was at the top of my list of activities to pass the time.  I once observed a hummingbird at a very close proximity by standing behind a tall trellis that was overrun by thick vines.  The hummingbird feeder was on the other side, and it was amazing being close enough to hear the whirring of the bird's wings.  When I grew older and was in college, my strongest interest was in biology.  This is when I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in biology, but I had yet to decide in what capacity.  It wasn't until I experienced basic research firsthand — at college and during summer research camps — that I recognized that obtaining a Ph.D. in a biological science was what I wanted to do.

Question 2: Share a story from your past that led to your choosing your field of work.
Answer: My story is one of indecision and then an "aha!" moment.  I was 23 years old, and I was getting desperate to decide what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I had just finished taking a biology course and realized that I was really good at it.  But biology is a large field, with many subfields to choose from.  One day, I was at home watching the television news magazine, \Primetime.\"  It was the summer of 1994, and a severe Ebola outbreak had just occurred in Africa.  "Primetime" reported on this outbreak, and I was mesmerized.  It was the moment I had been searching for.  I knew then that I wanted to study viruses — preferably scary ones, like Ebola.  I went on to study hepatitis viruses, instead, but enjoyed it all the same.

Question 3: Tell us about a hobby or passion outside of work.
Answer: My favorite thing to do when I'm not researching viral biology is researching my genealogical past.  It is a hobby that I picked up during a very low-point in my life.  I began doing simple genealogical research into my immediate family, and when I was able to track my paternal lineage back to 1600, I felt like I had discovered something that no one else knew.  I was bringing my ancestors to life with stories I was able to find in archives and history books.  The best part of this hobby is telling my parents or grandparents who these people from the past were.  Researching my family tree is actually quite exhausting, but, for some reason, it still manages to help me unwind from a hard day.  None of my family members can understand the fervor with which I pursue this hobby, but I think it's the research part that I like.

Question 4: Share a lighthearted story about yourself.
Answer: Before we were married, my husband and I spent Christmas day with a family friend.  It was early in our relationship, and I was eager to please.  So, I was constantly volunteering my services in the kitchen.  Our friend's house was a beautifully decorated house.  I nervously asked our friend if there was anything else I could help her set up.  She suggested that I begin lighting the candles in the dining room.  I took my new job with gusto and began lighting our friend's 4-foot high candelabras that were placed, not very wisely, right up next to a feaux, ficus tree.  When our friend's daughter came to help me, she gasped and said that I was lighting the wrong candles!  Her mother meant the tea lights in the centerpiece of the table!  As soon as she said that, some of the leaves of the ficus tree caught on fire.  We quickly put out the small flames, but I have been reminded of this most embarrassing moment, because it has become a story told every time we get together.  The story has now evolved to how I almost burned the house down.

Question 5: What's playing on your music player?
Answer: Sheryl Crow is always playing on my music player.  She is a great songwriter, and her songs have carried me through both happy and sad times in my life.

  • Get featured in our Member Spotlight blog: Contact Us

Representative Image Caption
Virologist Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer, a genealogy hobbyist, has traced her paternal linage back to 1600. (Photo: Azeneth Barrera-Sexauer)
Blog Name