July 24, 2017

Purdue research team aims to improve food safety and health care around the world

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Brighter days are ahead as a team of researchers applies the use of light and other technologies to better the world’s health care, food safety, and biosecurity systems.

Yong Chen, a Purdue University professor of physics and astronomy and electrical and computer engineering and the director of the Purdue Quantum Center, is leading a multidisciplinary team based in Purdue’s Discovery Park to explore new ways to use photonics science and technologies for such applications.

Photonics is the science and technology of generating, controlling, and detecting photons, which are particles of light. Photons are often used to create artificial light in phone screens, LED lights and X-rays.

The team will apply photonics science and technology into everyday life by targeting applications related to food safety and biosecurity. Their innovations may also help general health care by providing technologies that can diagnose diseases easier and faster than ever before. In addition, photonics science and technologies could have other, broader applications, such as border security to detect explosives, and energy, which can improve the efficiency of solar cells.

“We want to launch a sustainable effort and hopefully find the right strategies and pathway to be able to work for many years to come and really work toward solving these problems in the health care, security and energy fields,” Chen said.

His proposal aims to develop a multidisciplinary approach to create photonics-based pathogen sensors that can work with food and fluid samples to bridge the gap between university-scale research and real-world deployment, offering enhanced performance at lower cost.

“Once we have a strong base I think we will have a global reach. We hope our contribution will help people in and outside of the United States,” said Michael Ladisch, distinguished professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

“There’s a lot of impact we can have on disease detection through photonics-based pathogen sensors and global collaboration, as well,” said Ladisch.

 Challenges with the current practice of pathogen sensors are the amount of time equipped to produce the results and inaccuracy. The team will approach these challenges by focusing on two different approaches: the technical approach and the holistic approach. By combining photonics science and technologies to the real world and interaction with customers, the aim is for better public healthcare, biosecurity, and food safety.

Purdue’s Big Idea Challenge, which was launched by Discovery Park, provides initial funding and resources to teams made up of Purdue students and faculty who conduct interdisciplinary research on global challenges and life-changing innovations.

“Since the announcement of the Big Idea Challenge there are already several research projects that we have worked on together which would not have happened if we were not brought together by this program,” Chen said.

“We are bringing people together who are working on biological systems ranging from disease to agricultural plant systems, to people working on optics, photonics, and physics and electrical engineering” said Vladimir Shalaev, the Bob and Anne Burnett Distinguished Professorship in Electrical and Computer Engineering.  

With the multidisciplinary approach, the team’s strategies include meeting biweekly to exchange research results, brainstorming, networking with different colleagues, and planning events and grant proposals.

A one-day roundtable workshop is taking place this fall with approximately 30 participants such as stakeholders from outside of Purdue, food industry companies, federal agencies, and other potential collaborators. The official agenda is yet to be released.

The Photonics Science and Technologies for Food Safety, Biosecurity, and Healthcare Applications team also includes Alexandra Boltasseva, professor of electrical and computer engineering; David Nolte, the Edward M. Purcell Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy; and Young L. Kim, associate professor of biomedical engineering. 

Writer: Carolina Meraz, merazc@purdue.edu

Sources: Yong P. Chen, 765-494-0947, yongchen@purdue.edu

Michael Ladisch, 765-494-7022, ladisch@purdue.edu

Vladimir Shalaev, 765-494-9855, shalaev@purdue.edu 

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