Researchers Create Quantum Microscope That Can Reveals 'Impossible To See' Structures

Researchers Create Quantum Microscope That Can Reveals 'Impossible To See' Structures

You've probably seen images of scientists peering through a microscope at objects that are invisible to the naked eye. Microscopes, in fact, are critical to our understanding of life.

Researchers at the University of Queensland have made a significant scientific breakthrough by developing a quantum microscope that can reveal biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see.

Quantum technologies are based on quantum physics principles, which describe how tiny systems like atoms and subatomic particles behave.

The quantum microscope has 35% more clarity – at the scale of bonds between atoms in a cell – than current state-of-the-art imaging techniques.

It can image biological cells and other objects on a micrometer (μm) scale, which is 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

This paves the way for applications in biotechnology and areas ranging from navigation to medical imaging.

The performance of light-based microscopes has traditionally been limited by the fact that light exists as discrete energy packets known as photons.

Because photons are emitted at random times from a source (such as a laser), the light suffers from 'shot noise,' limiting sensitivity and resolution.

The usual way to get over this limit is to increase the intensity of the light, which results in more photons and an averaging out of statistical fluctuations. The best light microscopes use billions of times brighter lasers than the sun.

However, when it comes to biological samples, increasing the intensity of the light can actually harm the object being viewed through the microscope, defeating the purpose.

The new microscope employs quantum technology to reduce random light fluctuations within an image to improve image clarity. It works by utilizing quantum entanglement, a phenomenon in which photons of light are linked to one another – an effect Einstein referred to as "spooky interaction at a distance."

According to lead researcher Professor Warwick Bowen of the University of Queensland's Quantum Optics Lab and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS), it was the first entanglement-based sensor with performance that exceeded the best possible existing technology.

"This breakthrough will spark all sorts of new technologies -- from better navigation systems to better MRI machines, you name it," Pro. Bowen said.

"Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of a quantum revolution.

"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."

According to researchers, this can have far-reaching implications for microscopy and a wide range of other applications such as global positioning, radar, and navigation. 

The researchers hope to improve the new microscope's performance even further to produce images that are up to ten times clearer than current technology.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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