A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom into tiny structures with 35 percent more clarity could be a big leap for medical research, according to a study.
Researchers at the University of Queensland have developed the device, which is able to reveal biological structures that would otherwise not be visible.
Specifically, it can depict biological cells and other objects in the micrometer range (µm) – that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair.
It works by making use of quantum entanglement – the effect that the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once described as “ghostly interactions in the distance”.
The new microscope design is the first entanglement-based sensor that can surpass existing, classic physics-based technologies.
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A quantum-powered microscope that can zoom into tiny structures with 35 percent more clarity could be a big leap for medical research, according to a study. Pictured: artist’s impression of the new microscope in action. The twin pulses in the light beam represent the entangled photos that the team uses to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio of the resulting image
Experts from the University of Queensland have developed the device, which is able to reveal biological structures that would otherwise not be visible. Specifically, it can depict biological cells and other objects in the micrometer range (µm) – that is, 70 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. In the picture: polystyrene beads, left, and a living yeast cell, recorded with the quantum microscope (main) and under a conventional brightfield microscope (inset)
In this phenomenon, “entangled” particles, even when separated, behave as if connected, meaning that the actions of one change the behavior of the other.
Traditionally, the performance of light-based microscopes has been limited by the way light exists in the form of discrete packets of energy called photons.
Since photons from a source (such as a laser) are emitted at random times, the light is subject to what is known as “shot noise”, which limits its sensitivity and resolution.
The normal way to overcome this limit is to increase the intensity of the light – which results in more photons and an average of the statistical fluctuations.
However, for biological samples, increasing the light intensity can actually damage the object viewed through the microscope and destroy the objective.
However, by using entangled photons, more information can be recovered per single photon, which means that noise can be reduced without increasing light intensity.
“The best light microscopes use bright lasers that are billions of times brighter than the sun,” said author and quantum physicist Warwick Bowen of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia.
“Fragile biological systems like a human cell can only survive in them for a short time and that is a major hurdle.
“The quantum entanglement in our microscope offers 35 percent better clarity without destroying the cell, and enables us to see tiny biological structures that would otherwise be invisible.
“The benefits are obvious – from a better understanding of living systems to improved diagnostic technologies.”
The microscope shown works with quantum entanglement – the effect that the theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once described as “spooky interactions in the distance”.
By using entangled photons, more information can be obtained per single photon – which means that noise can be reduced without increasing the light intensity and damaging the biological samples being examined. Pictured: a diagram of how the microscope works
“Entanglement is believed to be at the heart of a quantum revolution,” said Professor Bowen.
“We finally showed that sensors that use it can replace existing, non-quantum-based technologies.
“This is exciting – it is the first proof of the paradigm shift potential of entanglement for sensors.”
‘This is exciting. It is the first evidence of the paradigm-shifting potential of entanglement for perception, ”said Professor Bowen (pictured here, center right, aligning the quantum microscope with Waleed Muhammad, right, Caxtere Casacio, center left, and Lars Madsen, right).
According to Professor Bowen, the quantum entanglement-based technology will “revolutionize computing, communication and sensor technology”.
‘Absolutely secure communication was demonstrated a few decades ago as the first evidence of an absolute quantum advantage over conventional technologies.
“Computing faster than any conventional computer was demonstrated by Google two years ago as the first evidence of an absolute advantage in computing.
“The last piece of the puzzle was feeling, and we have now closed that gap. This opens the door to some far-reaching technological revolutions.
“This breakthrough will spark all sorts of new technologies – from better navigation systems to better MRI machines, whatever,” he concluded.
The full results of the study have been published in the journal Nature.
WHAT IS QUANTUM CONNECTION?
In quantum physics, entangled particles stay connected, so the actions of one affect the behavior of the other, even when separated by great distances.
This means that if you measure “up” for the spin of a photon of an entangled pair, the spin of the other measured a moment later is “down” – even if the two are on opposite sides of the world.
Entanglement occurs when some of the particles physically interact.
In quantum physics, entangled particles stay connected so that actions of one influence the behavior of the other, even if they are separated by great distances (artist’s impression)
For example, a laser beam fired through a certain type of crystal can cause individual light particles to be split into pairs of entangled photons.
The theory that annoyed Einstein is also known as “spooky action at a distance”.
Einstein wasn’t happy with the theory because it suggested that information could travel faster than light.