Originally Published by AbbVie.
Scientists Rock! is a monthly Q&A where we pull an AbbVie scientist out of the lab to hear what makes them tick. This month, we chat with Axel Hernandez Jr., senior scientist, AbbVie Bioresearch Center.
Skilled molecular scientist. Inspirational pre-K football coach. Multi-talented athlete. Dedicated family man. Is there nothing super-scientist Axel can’t do Armed only with a lab coat and goggles, kryptonite itself couldn’t keep this man of steel from trying to help rescue those in need.
Tell us the story of how you fell in love with science.
I fell in love with science when I was in the sixth grade. My history teacher would always read parts of books to our classroom. One book in particular really caught my attention: Jurassic Park. In the book, a scientist re-creates dinosaurs by using damaged dinosaur DNA isolated from mosquitoes trapped in amber. A geneticist then fills any missing gaps in the genetic code with compatible amphibian DNA. This is where I was first introduced to genetic engineering and the concept of cloning. I challenged my teacher to a one-on-one basketball game in which he would have to read the full book to the class if I won. Long story short I won! After reading the entire book out loud to me and my classmates, our teacher did one better. He took us on a field trip to see the premiere of Jurassic Park in an actual movie theater. Let’s just say, mind officially blown!
If we were to ask your family what it is that you do, what would they say
My 4-year-old son would say I wear a cool costume all day: a lab coat and goggles! My 7-year-old daughter would say I help people by trying to make new medicines.
What did you want to be when you grew up
I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. Growing up, I had great mentors both in the classroom and on the athletic field. Without their guidance, I would not be in the position I am in today and for that, I am grateful. In my job, I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to pay it forward by teaching and mentoring young scientists.
What was the last science-related book or movie you enjoyed
The last science-related book I read was The Hot Zone by Richard Preston. It is a fantastic book about the origin of the Ebola virus and how the virus makes its way to Washington, D.C., U.S.A. This led me to the movie Outbreak, which was based on The Hot Zone. In the movie, the Ebola virus mutates and becomes airborne (completely fictional as Ebola is not an airborne virus).
What keeps you coming to work every day
The challenge of drug discovery and identifying potential new therapeutics that one day can help improve the quality of life of millions of people. I am fortunate to be able to work with a great team of scientists that share the same passion.
In your opinion, why does science rock
In my opinion, science rocks because we are allowed to think outside the box to tackle difficult-to-answer questions with the hope of unlocking the key to identifying new drugs for the benefit of patients all around the world.