Quantum microscope achieves otherwise impossible imaging

Tuesday, 22 June, 2021

Quantum microscope achieves otherwise impossible imaging

Researchers from The University of Queensland (UQ) have created a quantum microscope that can reveal biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see. Described in the journal Nature, the device is set to have applications ranging from biotechnology to navigation and medical imaging.

The microscope is powered by the science of quantum entanglement, an effect Einstein described as “spooky interactions at a distance”. UQ’s Professor Warwick Bowen, from the Queensland Quantum Optics Lab and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS), said it is the first entanglement-based sensor with performance beyond the best possible existing technology.

“Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of a quantum revolution,” he said. “We’ve finally demonstrated that sensors that use it can supersede existing, non-quantum technology.

“This is exciting — it’s the first proof of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing.”

A major success of the team’s quantum microscope was its ability to catapult over a ‘hard barrier’ in traditional light-based microscopy. As explained by Prof Bowen, “The best light microscopes use bright lasers that are billions of times brighter than the sun. Fragile biological systems like a human cell can only survive a short time in them and this is a major roadblock.

“The quantum entanglement in our microscope provides 35% improved clarity without destroying the cell, allowing us to see minute biological structures that would otherwise be invisible. The benefits are obvious — from a better understanding of living systems, to improved diagnostic technologies.”

UQ researchers (anticlockwise from bottom left) Catxere Casacio, Warwick Bowen, Lars Madsen and Waleed Muhammad aligning the quantum microscope.

Australia’s Army Quantum Technologies Roadmap sees quantum sensors spurring a new wave of technological innovation in health care, engineering, transport and resources. Indeed, Prof Bowen said there are potentially boundless opportunities for quantum entanglement in technology, claiming it is set to revolutionise computing, communication and sensing.

“This breakthrough will spark all sorts of new technologies — from better navigation systems to better MRI machines, you name it,” he said.

“Absolutely secure communication was demonstrated some decades ago as the first demonstration of absolute quantum advantage over conventional technologies. Computing faster than any possible conventional computer was demonstrated by Google two years ago as the first demonstration of absolute advantage in computing.

“The last piece in the puzzle was sensing, and we’ve now closed that gap.”

Top image: Artist’s impression of the new quantum microscope in action.

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