How safe is your drinking water? Speaker series tackles perplexing problems


Saving lives by making water safe, the art of planet hunting and the magic of nano-magnets are among the research topics being explored by Ontario’s top researchers as McMaster kicks off this year’s speaker series, Research Matters.

John Brennan, Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry and Biointerfaces at McMaster, will reflect on the most basic human necessity – safe drinking water – at the event being held Monday, Nov. 4 between 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at McMaster Innovation Park on Longwood Rd. S.

Brennan’s work involves the development of small paper-based devices that detect various chemicals, either in water or in food. The science behind these strips – bioactive paper – is already here. Doctors have been using bioactive paper since the 1950s to test for glucose in urine.

Working on new applications, Brennan and his team have developed the technology to detect E.coli, listeria, pesticides, and more. His ultimate goal is to put this technology into the hands of everyday consumers, who can test their water at home and get results in just 30 minutes.

He will be joined by Algoma University’s Gayle Broad, who will probe how communities can be a force for social innovation; the University of Ottawa’s Muralee Murugesu, who will discuss the miracles of nano-magnets; University of Toronto’s Ray Jayawardhana, whose specialty is planet hunting, and Chris Eliasmith, of the University of Waterloo, who will ask whether it’s possible to build intelligent machines.

McMaster’s vice-president of research and international affairs, Mo Elbestawi, says it is an honour to host these esteemed researchers as part of the Research Matters outreach initiative.

“Ontario researchers play a significant role in our society.  Their work creates jobs, improves health and contributes to our economic and social well-being.  Their work crosses all disciplines and not only changes lives, it is essential to helping government, businesses and communities make informed decisions,” he says, adding he’s incredibly pleased the Hamilton community will get to learn about their work first-hand.

Researchers will present their topic and then ask audiences in the room and online to decide What Matters Now? The Hamilton event is the first of five talks in the 2014 speaker series which will be traveling across Ontario over the next six months.

“Research Matters is such an important showcase for the fascinating and life changing research going on at Ontario universities,” says COU President and CEO Bonnie M. Patterson. “Without research, we would not be able to combat disease, solve serious social problems, create more effective public policy and discover things we’ve never even thought of.”

The series will be moderated by radio and television personality Piya Chattopadhyay, who is often a host on both CBC radio and TVO’s flagship current affairs program, The Agenda.

For more details on Research Matters please check out and follow @OntarioResearch on Twitter.

John Brennan on the paper strips, developed at McMaster, that can detect harmful concentrations of E. coli in recreational water within minutes.