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New quantum microscope can image incredibly small biological structures

Researchers at the University of Queensland developed a quantum microscope, pictured, that they say could allow for images of previously impossible-to-see biology. Photo by University of Queensland
Researchers at the University of Queensland developed a quantum microscope, pictured, that they say could allow for images of previously impossible-to-see biology. Photo by University of Queensland

June 9 (UPI) -- Researchers in Australia have engineered a new microscope, powered by quantum entanglement, or what Einstein called "spooky interaction," that can observe previously invisible biological structures.

The technology, described Wednesday in the journal Nature, could inspire breakthroughs in navigational and biomedical imaging technologies.

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Quantum entanglement describes the inextricable link between multiple particles, whereby the measure or manipulation of one particle is observed in the others, regardless of time or location.

"Entanglement is thought to lie at the heart of a quantum revolution," lead study author Warwick Bowen, professor of quantum physics at the University of Queensland, said in a press release.

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"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," Bowen said.

So far, optical engineers have mostly addressed the shortcomings of traditional microscopes -- whether they are problems with sensitivity, resolution and speed -- by boosting light intensity.

As a result, the world's most capable microscopes utilize extremely powerful lasers, which produce rays billions of times more powerful than the sun's rays.

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Unfortunately, fragile biological systems can survive such high-energy light waves for short amounts of time.

"Our microscope is a coherent Raman microscope that offers sub-wavelength resolution and incorporates bright quantum correlated illumination," researchers explained in the new paper.

By using quantum entanglement to illuminate their previously invisible biological targets, researchers were able to boost the microscope's clarity by 35 percent without damaging cellular structures.

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"The benefits are obvious -- from a better understanding of living systems, to improved diagnostic technologies," Bowen said.

Scientists have previously demonstrated quantum physics' potential for revolutionizing information security and computing.

"The last piece in the puzzle was sensing, and we've now closed that gap," Bowen said. "This opens the door for some wide-ranging technological revolutions."

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