Q-CHeM CHRONICLES - Ten years ago, the Walkerton tragedy shocked Canadians into a whole new level of awareness of drinking water quality. In the wake of this event, Stephen Brown’s research group set about developing a new technology for detecting bacteria in water. In a classic story of serendipity, they had already been working on fibre-optic sensors for detecting aromatic compounds as part of a study of impacts of contaminants on fish. They discovered that they could combine the fibre-optic sensor and aromatic compound metabolites to detect the enzymes that happen to be standard indicators of E. coli and coliform bacteria. In collaboration with Peter Aston’s group in Microbiology and Immunology, they developed a test with automated detection for those target bacteria. The test exceeds the performance of current lab tests where a technician does visual interpretation, and works in highly coloured and/or opaque samples that can’t be tested by current methods.