November 29, 2010

A Little Light Solves Big Problems

A Carleton professor and his team of researchers are using standard optical fibre to develop a device that can quickly detect toxins in drinking water or diseases in humans.

Jacques Albert is the holder of the Canada Research Chair inAdvanced Photonic Components. His device will send light down specially-coated, modified optical fibre — the same low-cost fibre used in telecommunications — to determine the presence of a target molecule, such as a marker molecule indicating a specific pathogen.

The biosensor will make it cheaper and faster to get results than existing technology. “Right now, to detect genes or to see how a drug affects a cell, for example, you have to go into the lab and use a big machine to analyze results,” explains Albert, whose team includes graduate students and Carleton professors. “But our device is so small that you can insert it whenever, wherever you want to measure, including inside the human body.” Albert and his team have already spent five years on the biosensor.

“Beliaev is already solving problems other students haven’t been able to”

The design of the coating on the fibre will be provided by PhD student Alexander Beliaev, who received the President’s 2010 Doctoral Fellowship.

“[Beliaev] is already solving problems other students haven’t been able to,” says Albert, who supervised Beliaev’s master’s thesis with chemistry professor Anatoli Ianoul. “Alexander has a very strong theoretical background.”

The Belarusian came to Canada in January 2008 to study with Albert because his work greatly interested Beliaev.

“I find photonics fascinating,” says the 30-year-old who also received a PhD fellowship from the National Optics Institute in Quebec City. “It is a good combination of the theoretical and the practical.”

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