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UNB researchers work on 13 COVID-19 related projects

Alumni News Magazine | Fall/Winter 2020

Around the world, researchers across all fields and disciplines are working to address the challenges, issues and implications of the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic. Here at UNB, our research community is part of that movement.

“Our faculty and researchers are part of a global community doing their part to help us better understand, detect and resolve the health, social and economic challenges posed by this virus,” says  Dr. David MaGee (BScEng’82, PhD’87), UNB’s vice-president research. “I am always impressed by the quality and dedication of our researchers and I look forward to seeing the results of these important projects.”

UNB researchers, working on 13 COVID-19 related projects, received more than $400,000 in funding from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, the New Brunswick Health Research Foundation and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

The economy after COVID-19

Dr. Philip Leonard, Dr. Herb Emery, Dr. Sandra Magalhaes and Dr. Ted McDonald, with the New Brunswick-Institute for Research Data and Training and the department of sociology, are researching the economics of post-COVID-19 New Brunswick.

The research team will study the immediate impacts and disruptions of the pandemic on the economy and where they see a lack of disruption.

The researchers want to understand what impacts of the pandemic on businesses and households are transitory and which are permanent. They want to know what the emerging opportunities are for the province to rebuild its exports and grow its population, and what public policies will be necessary to take advantage of those opportunities.

New Brunswick’s economy has not grown since 2010 and COVID-19 now creates the real possibility that its economy could contract with accelerated de-industrialization. With this research, they want to understand what the impacts of COVID-19 are for the competitiveness of the province’s exporters and what public policy can do to ensure that New Brunswick is a profitable place to produce.

Clinical nursing education re-imagined

Dr. David Busolo and Dr. Jason Hickey, along with fellow faculty of nursing researchers  Dr. Petrea Taylor (BN’97, MN’02, C-MHN’06, PhD’18), Renee Gordon and Alisha Keough (BN’04), partnered with Under One Sky’s Patsy McKinney (BPhil’07) and Alyse Duffney (BPhil’18) to implement and evaluate a virtual-remote clinical delivery model designed to counteract the disruption in nursing education posed by COVID-19.

Under One Sky is an Indigenous Friendship Centre that supports the urban, off-reserve Indigenous community. Nine students are working with 18 Indigenous families at Under One Sky as part of their community and population health clinical placement. The students are engaging in community program development to assess families’ digital and community health needs, strengths and resources. The students, under the direction of their instructors and a community appointed liaison, will develop ways to support these families.

A crucial part of this work is to provide culturally safe nursing care. The outcomes of this project are: Under One Sky, and the Indigenous families they work with, will gain access to health promotion information and peer support; an innovative, evidence-based delivery model that will mitigate the disruption of clinical nursing education; and the development of capacity in virtual-remote education and health care that will enable the faculty of nursing and Under One Sky to potentially expand the scope of this initiative to better serve isolated and difficult-to-reach populations.

Using nanotechnology to kill airborne pathogens

Dr. Felipe Chibante is an associate professor in chemical engineering and chemistry. He is a materials researcher whose work is primarily focused on the clean energy sector through the perspective  of nanotechnology.

Nano refers to the scale near the atomic level, where all chemical interactions are occurring. This holds true for both materials and biological systems. At the nanoscale, properties change as compared to the observable scale, creating new opportunities for technology and design.  These materials can then be engineered into novel devices, with the intent of solving real-world problems, often with commercial potential.

By combining nanoscale materials into personal protection equipment (PPE) such as masks, Dr. Chibante expects to not only trap airborne pathogens such as COVID-19 more effectively, but also deactivate the pathogens and disinfect the mask for reuse. Currently, used masks remain contagious and are consider biohazardous, and must be disposed of accordingly. This both puts a burden on the supply chain up front, and increases the environmental impact downstream.

The first phase of the project will be the development of nano-enabled filtering layers with anti-pathogen properties and assessing their neutralizing efficiency with common bacteria. After that, Dr. Chibante will be looking for additional support for a second phase, to continue with viral testing, mask design and commercialization.

Public education reform

Dr. Casey Burkholder and Dr. Matt Rogers (BA’05, BEd’07, MEd’10, PhD’14), faculty of education, are researching the response to changes in New Brunswick’s public education system during and after the pandemic.

The focus of their research is on stakeholder responses to the impact of the pandemic in education and educational reform in New Brunswick. They are exploring how the New Brunswick education system responds to this crisis. They also believe that it is important that policymakers and educators have information available to make thoughtful, ethical and responsive judgements about policy and practice. They ask: How do students, educators, parents and policymakers respond to the crisis and education change? What institutional or social factors shape or limit reform? What does not change, and why? What forms of resistance to reform surface? What equity issues arise or are overlooked during reform? How do policymakers respond/not respond to these issues?

They plan to recruit a wide variety of people, including parents, teachers, administrators, officials from the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association, the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation, and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and other stakeholders to take part in recorded videoconference interviews focused on education during and after the pandemic. After the 18 months, they will develop a final report, a documentary film based on the archival materials they collected, and work on a series of  journal articles.

The remaining nine research projects

  • Experiences of disruption and adaptations to routines, roles, habits and occupations of individuals with chronic disease during the pandemic: Dr. Shelley Doucet (BN’05, PhD’10) (nursing and health sciences) and Dr. Kerrie Luck (PhD’18)
  • Public health communications strategy during pandemics, using New Brunswick’s COVID-19 response as a case study: Dr. Hadi Eslami (business) and Dr. Mercy Oyet (business)
  • Developing large scale, low-cost COVID-19 antigen production methods for wide-scale community testing initiatives: Dr. Shawn MacLellan (biology), Dr. Michael Duffy (BSc’92, PhD’00) (biology) and Dr. Aurora Nedelcu (biology)
  • COVID-19 risk indicators to support community planning and recovery efforts and better inform possible responses in New Brunswick: Dr. Sandra Magalhaes (sociology and NB-Institute for Research, Data and Training)
  • Uses, challenges and benefits of computers to facilitate remote learning in marginalized communities: Dr. Rob Moir (business), building on a device access project by Mr. Dan Doiron (BScEng’84) (business)
  • Creation of a portable sensor for coronavirus detection: Dr. Anna Ignaszak (chemistry)
  • Use of nanocomposite materials to protect against viruses like the 2019 novel coronavirus: Dr. Gobinda Saha (mechanical engineering and nanocomposites and mechanics laboratory)
  • Use of consumer technology to support breathing exercise games in remote post-respiratory infection recovery: Dr. Erik Scheme (BScEng’03, MScEng’05, PhD’13) (electrical and computer engineering), Dr. Scott Bateman (computer science) and Aaron Tabor (BScSwEng’15, MCS’15, PhD candidate)
  • Use of virtual reality and 3D modelling to minimize the spread of viruses on construction sites: Dr. Lloyd Waugh (BScEng’79) (civil engineering)


Read about all 13 projects in the UNB Research blog.

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