Editorial Feature

What is Quantum Microscopy?

Particle manipulation has always been crucial to enhancing scattering and microscopy methods for material studies. In light of this strategy, researchers integrated quantum technology and microscopy to study the particles and molecules at the atomic level, which is unattainable using a conventional microscope.

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Quantum microscopy based on quantum phenomena, such as a photon or electron entanglement, measures particles and their properties at the atomic scale.

Most microscopes employ light or laser to illuminate and see semi-transparent or transparent materials. Although certain samples can withstand high radiation levels, others are very delicate and are destroyed by high intensity of light, making it difficult to analyze them.

The simplest solution is to decrease the light intensity. But unfortunately, doing so can make the image noisy and fuzzy, which might conceal important features that could otherwise provide the observer with valuable information.

Quantum microscopy overcomes this challenge by restoring the image of the material using constructive interference of entangled photons. It combines a quantum source that produces hyper-entangled space-polarized photons, a lens-less interference microscope with a wide field of vision, and a single photon avalanche diode array camera, to realize particles at the atomic level.

History

The first microscope was invented by Dutch lensmaker Zacharias Janssen around the turn of the 17th century. This innovation led to the discovery of cells and bacteria.

In 1981, Heinrich Rohrer and Gerd Binnig of the IBM Zurich Laboratory developed the scanning tunneling microscope based on complicated quantum models, a new limit to the scale of microscopy, taking it from the micro to the nano-scale, representing a quantum microscope revolution.

Applications of Quantum Microscopy

Quantum microscopy's ability to provide numerous characterization and imaging modalities offers promising new insights into the behavior and structure of materials at the nano to the quantum scale.

Mechanical Properties of Patterned Films

Examining acoustic behavior at the nano-scale using quantum microscopy reveals details on stress and strain for objects with length scales as small as a few nanometers that are difficult or impossible to obtain using physical and mechanical characterization techniques.

Materials Properties and Dynamics

The electrical, magnetic, and elastic characteristics of nanostructured media and quantum materials can be investigated via their femto- to picosecond temporal response using ultrafast laser pulses.

Quantum Microscope as an MRI for Molecules

Quantum Microscopy enables scientists to investigate and examine how DNA folds and winds inside a cell and how medications function inside bacteria or cells. It generates images of each atomic ion, even in a liquid solvent, and characterizes the biological reaction without interfering with it.

Scientists long anticipated such an imaging technique to harmlessly view molecular interaction and cellular structure without invasive intervention.

Recent Research and Development

Quantum Microscope That Can See the Invisible

University of Queensland researchers have created a quantum microscope to see previously invisible cellular structures.

They proposed exploiting quantum photon correlations to enhance biological imaging without enhancing light intensity. As a result, they obtained a signal-to-noise ratio 35 percent higher than conventional microscopy.

Q-MIC Consortium Enhances Sensitivity without Causing Photodamage

The "Q-MIC project" consortium, the institute of photonic sciences, Micro Photon Devices, Politecnico di Milano, and Fraunhofer IOF have developed a quantum-enhanced microscope.

Unlike conventional microscopes, this microscope employs extremely low light intensities to examine wide regions of materials with increased resolution and sensitivity without causing photodamage.

Quantum Microscopy Prototype Points to Novel Sensing and Imaging

New types of microscopy are becoming possible with the development of quantum technology; these microscopes can detect electric currents, magnetic field fluctuations, and even atomic particles on a surface. A prototype of such a microscope, displaying high-resolution sensitivity, was designed by Australian researchers led by Dr Jean-Philippe Titian and Prof. Igor Aharonovich.

The researchers employed atomically thin layers of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN) instead of the huge crystals for quantum experiments. This made it feasible to scan the magnetic fields of ferromagnets under ambient settings, which was previously thought impossible.

Imaging Individual Atoms

A team of researchers from the University of Stuttgart has created a quantum microscope based on ion optics that can produce images of subatomic particles. Instead of utilizing a curved surface to concentrate light in their microscope, they employed an electrostatic lens to direct the trajectories of ions in an electric field.

As a result, their microscope was able to catch features from 6.79 μm to 0.52 μm with a 532 nm gap between them, enough for individual imaging atoms.

Future of Quantum Microscopy

Recent breakthroughs in quantum microscopy have shown great promise in overcoming traditional technology barriers and providing superior imaging quality.

Quantum microscopy will allow the development of new studies in different fields of science. A notable example consists of the discovery of the shape of DNA since the double helix structure had only been demonstrated by theoretical calculations but had never been realized.

These discoveries will open up a new world of possibilities for discovering and understanding the nature of objects. For this reason, quantum microscopy is and will be an excellent tool for those who want to see beyond their eyes.

More from AZoOptics: Holographic Microscopy and Deep Learning Could Improve Global Carbon Cycle Understanding

References and Further Reading 

Camphausen, R., Cuevas, Á., Duempelmann, L., Terborg, R. A., Wajs, E., Tisa, S., ... & Pruneri, V. (2021). A quantum-enhanced wide-field phase imager. Science advances, 7(47), eabj2155. https://www.science.org/doi/full/10.1126/sciadv.abj2155

Casacio, C. A., Madsen, L. S., Terrasson, A., Waleed, M., Barnscheidt, K., Hage, B., ... & Bowen, W. P. (2021). Quantum-enhanced nonlinear microscopy. Nature, 594(7862), 201-206. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-021-03528-w

Healey, A. J., Scholten, S. C., Yang, T., Scott, J. A., Abrahams, G. J., Robertson, I. O., ... & Tetienne, J. P. (2022). Quantum microscopy with van der Waals heterostructures. Nature Physics, 1-5. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41567-022-01815-5

Koenig, F. (2017). The History of the Microscope. [Online]. New York Microscope Company. Available at: https://microscopeinternational.com/the-history-of-the-microscope/ (Accessed on December 12 2022).

Peach, M. (2022). Quantum microscope enhances sensitivity — without causing photodamage. [Online]. SPIE. Available at: https://spie.org/news/quantum-microscope-enhances-sensitivity-without-causing-photodamage?SSO=1 (Accessed on December 12 2022).

Veit, C., Zuber, N., Herrera-Sancho, O. A., Anasuri, V. S. V., Schmid, T., Meinert, F., ... & Pfau, T. (2021). Pulsed ion microscope to probe quantum gases. Physical Review X, 11(1), 011036. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRevX.11.01103

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Owais Ali

Written by

Owais Ali

NEBOSH certified Mechanical Engineer with 3 years of experience as a technical writer and editor. Owais is interested in occupational health and safety, computer hardware, industrial and mobile robotics. During his academic career, Owais worked on several research projects regarding mobile robots, notably the Autonomous Fire Fighting Mobile Robot. The designed mobile robot could navigate, detect and extinguish fire autonomously. Arduino Uno was used as the microcontroller to control the flame sensors' input and output of the flame extinguisher. Apart from his professional life, Owais is an avid book reader and a huge computer technology enthusiast and likes to keep himself updated regarding developments in the computer industry.

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