Research Report 2008

Nothing to sneeze at

You walk into work and are greeted by your co-workers. One has a runny nose. Another is hoarse from coughing. And your supervisor won’t be in because she’s in a feverish state. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an earlier warning that the flu virus is in the room? Dr. Luc Beaulieu, winner of the 2008 Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award, is working on a better way to detect the virus.

He’s the only researcher using cantilever sensors to detect airborne flu viruses.

Dr. Beaulieu, Department of Physics, hopes to not only detect the virus with a nanotechnology sensor that’s as wide as a human hair, but to measure how much of it is present as well. This research could yield an air monitoring system that functions in buildings around the world.

Cantilever sensors are micrometre sized beams supported at one end. To detect influenza, Dr. Beaulieu will attach specific antibodies to the surface of the cantilever which are receptive to a single strain of the virus. In theory, when the virus binds with the antibodies on the cantilever, a surface stress will be generated which, in turn, will cause the cantilever to bend. The amount of bending is then used to infer the concentration levels of the virus.

“To my knowledge there are no other groups attempting to use cantilever sensors for detecting the influenza virus,” said Dr. Beaulieu, who is collaborating with Dr. Ken Hirasawa from the Faculty of Medicine on the project. “However, I am confident that one day cantilever sensors can be implemented into continuous air monitoring systems and have a significant impact on our health care system by reducing the current economical burden caused by the influenza virus.”

Copyright © 2008 Memorial University of Newfoundland