Science 3 min read

How Quantum Microscopy is Improving Medicine

Montana State University's Bruker AVANCE300 Magnetic Resonance Microscope |

Montana State University's Bruker AVANCE300 Magnetic Resonance Microscope |

Molecular imaging offers several possibilities, such as the detection of diseases in their first stages of development. Australian researchers have built a new diamond-based resonance microscope that gives scientists the ability to look at nanoscale molecular reactions in real-time.

Australian physicists used diamond flaws to create a quantum resonance microscope.Click To Tweet

A Brief History of Microscopy

However complex and powerful it might be, human eyesight is not perfect and ages quickly past a person’s early 20s. Early on in microscopy, the need to see better led to a long search for workarounds–what we found was a mini universe to observe.

The invention of the microscope has not been sufficiently documented as to associate names with it, but its early illustrations date to the 17th century. In 1665, Robert Hooke, an English chemist, physicist, and inventor, published MICROGRAPHIA in which described a number of samples as he observed them with a microscope, or what he called “magnifying lenses.” In this book, Hooke illustrated plants, insects, and human-made objects and coined the term “cell”.

Optical microscopes can’t distinguish objects smaller than half a wavelength of light. The solution for increasing the resolution of the microscope is to use an illumination source that has a shorter wavelength. With this in mind, the theoretical electron microscope was born.

Quantum Molecular MRI

Since the discovery of X-rays in 1895, medical imaging has benefited from the contribution of computer science and image digitization techniques. The MRI is one of the most commonly used imaging technologies in medicine.

Although its merits are immense, MRI is still limited to a scale of 10 micrometers (10,000 nanometers), leaving biochemical and biological processes happening at smaller scales inaccessible to scientists. That’s what researchers at the University of Melbourne have tackled. A paper on the technique was published in the Cornell University Library.

Led by David Simpson and Lloyd Hollenberg, a team designed a magnetic resonance microscope with a resolution of 300 nanometers. The key to this quantum microscope is a 2-millimetre-wide diamond sensor that creates images thanks to specially located flaws present in its structure.

The defects in the diamond, called nitrogen vacancies, are highly sensitive to the spin of atoms and electrons in the samples observed and can be illuminated and produce colors accordingly.

Dr. Simpson and colleagues’ quantum resonance microscope has sensitivity 104 times greater than current state-of-the-art resonance techniques. This new technique offers the opportunity of insights into nanoscale biological processes as they occur, and provide professionals with new tools to study complex living cells at unprecedented levels.

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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