A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom in on small structures with 35 percent greater clarity could represent a quantum leap for medical research, a study reports.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have created the device, which is capable of revealing biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see.
In particular, it can image biological cells and other objects on a micrometer (µm) scale – that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
It works by taking advantage of quantum entanglement — the effect theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once called “spooky interactions at a distance.”
The new microscope design is the first entanglement-based sensor that can surpass existing classical physics-based technology.
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A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom in on small structures with 35 percent greater clarity could represent a quantum leap for medical research, a study reports. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the new microscope in action. The double pulses in the beam of light represent the entangled photos the team uses to lower the signal-to-noise ratio of the resulting image
Experts from the University of Queensland have created the device, which is capable of revealing biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see. In particular, it can image biological cells and other objects on a micrometer (µm) scale – that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. Pictured: Polystyrene beads, left, and a living yeast cell as imaged through the quantum microscope (main) and under a traditional, brightfield microscope (inset)
This phenomenon causes particles that are ‘entangled’ to behave as if they are connected, even when separated, meaning that the actions of one change the behavior of the other.
Traditionally, the performance of light-based microscopes has been limited by how light exists as discrete energy packets called photons.
Because photons are emitted at random times by a source (such as a laser for example), the light is subject to so-called ‘shot noise’, which limits sensitivity and resolution.
The normal way to overcome this limit is to increase the intensity of the light – resulting in more photons and an average of the statistical fluctuations.
However, with biological samples, increasing the intensity of the light can actually damage the object viewed through the microscope, defeating the objective.
However, using entangled photons makes it possible to recover more information per photon, meaning noise can be reduced without increasing light intensity.
“The best light microscopes use bright lasers that are billions of times brighter than the sun,” explains author and quantum physicist Warwick Bowen of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
‘Vulnerable biological systems such as a human cell can only survive in it for a short time and this is a major roadblock.
‘The quantum entanglement in our microscope provides a 35 percent improvement in brightness without destroying the cell, allowing us to see tiny biological structures that would otherwise be invisible.
‘The benefits are clear: from a better understanding of living systems to improved diagnostic technologies.’
The microscope pictured works through quantum entanglement — the effect theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once called “spooky interactions at a distance.”
By using entangled photons, more information can be recovered per single photon — meaning noise can be reduced without increasing light intensity and damaging the biological samples being studied. Pictured: A diagram of the microscope’s operation
“Entanglement is believed to be at the heart of a quantum revolution,” said Professor Bowen.
“We’ve finally shown that sensors using it can replace existing, non-quantum technology.
“This is exciting — it’s the first evidence of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing.”
‘This is exciting. It’s the first evidence of the paradigm-changing potential of entanglement for sensing,” said Professor Bowen (shown here at center right as he aligns the quantum microscope with Waleed Muhammad, right, Caxtere Casacio, center left, and Lars Madsen, right)
According to Professor Bowen, quantum entanglement-based technology “will revolutionize computing, communication and sensing.”
‘Absolutely secure communication was demonstrated several decades ago as the first demonstration of absolute quantum advantage over conventional technologies.
Computing faster than any conventional computer was demonstrated by Google two years ago as the first demonstration of absolute advantage in computer science.
‘The last piece of the puzzle was sensing, and we have now closed that gap. This opens the door for some broad technological revolutions.
“This breakthrough will spark all kinds of new technologies — from better navigation systems to better MRI machines, you name it,” he concluded.
The study’s full findings were published in the journal Nature.
WHAT IS QUANTUM REPLACEMENT?
In quantum physics, entangled particles stay connected, so actions performed by one affect the behavior of the other, even if they are separated by vast distances.
This means that if you measure ‘up’ for the spin of one photon of an entangled pair, the spin of the other, measured a moment later, will be ‘down’ – even if the two are on opposite sides of the world .
Entanglement occurs when a portion of particles interact physically.
In quantum physics, entangled particles stay connected so that the actions of one influence the behavior of the other, even if they are separated by enormous distances (artist’s impression)
For example, a laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual light particles to split into pairs of entangled photons.
The theory that irked Einstein so much has been called “ghostly action at a distance.”
Einstein was not happy with the theory, because it suggested that information could travel faster than light.