Q: When is a virus not a virus? A: When it’s a laser.
That scientific riddle is a key to work being done by Bogdan Dragnea, a Provost Professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University Bloomington.
Dragnea is a leading researcher in physical virology – the study of how viruses assemble themselves. Since his arrival at IU in 2001, Dragnea’s work has helped place IU Bloomington at the forefront of the physical virology field. Today, IU is a hub for some of the best researchers in the world in this area.
With current funding from the Department of Defense US Army Research Office as well as the National Science Foundation, Dragnea and his laboratory team are working on constructing tiny super-radiant light sources based on virus particles. They have succeeded in “getting coherent light, just like a laser, out of a virus,” Dragnea explained, and are “on a good track” to develop the technology further.
These super-radiant particles, far brighter than current state-of-the-art sources, could have important biomedical applications such as guiding microscopic surgery in the brain with much greater precision.
Dragnea’s work on super-radiant virus-like particles is new, only about two years old, but he’s long been a part of a number of important research collaborations investigating viruses, such as his study of processes involved in the self-assembly of HIV-1. With his IU physics colleague James Glazier and others, Dragnea holds two patents for enhanced biosensors that use light to more accurately detect a variety of things from hazardous wastes in air and water to viruses in blood and other body fluids.