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Catherine Beauchemin is predicting the future of flus

Quote from Catherine Beauchemin: “I apply the problem-solving techniques of physics to biology to better understand and predict how viruses like influenza and hepatitis C act and spread.”

As a physicist, Catherine Beauchemin is used to relying on both experiments and theory (in the form of equations) together to study, understand and predict the world. But most of biology – in particular, the study of viruses – relies almost entirely on experiments. Without equations to validate or predict an experiment, the data produced can be unreliable and the results hard to reproduce — the most serious issue facing health science today.

Beauchemin thinks adding equations into the mix is the key to solving this crisis in health research. She applies the methods of physics to virology to understand and describe how a virus spreads from cell to cell in a culture or inside a person. By using computer modelling to fill in knowledge gaps and to reproduce observations, she can extract information that had so far stayed hidden within experimental data. With this extra information, she can make sure the results are robust, and she can answer questions about strain severity, drug resistance, and the best time to target a virus with treatment.

Her goal is to make health research and virology see the same collaboration between experiment and theory as exists in physics. When experimental results are quantifiable and predictable by theory, they are easier to validate, fewer mistakes are made, and more reliable knowledge is obtained. This knowledge can be used to improve how we treat viruses today, and keep people healthy in the future.

Catherine Beauchemin
Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Faculty of Science
Member, College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists, Royal Society of Canada
Principal investigator, external,Virophysics Laboratory
Senior Visiting Scientist, Interdisciplinary Theoretical and Mathematical Sciences
Program (iTHEMS), RIKEN, Japan
Ontario Early Researcher Award Recipient