Microscopes have revolutionized the field of biotechnology and medicine and are also extensively used in various industries. Microscopes have made us see things that are impossible for unaided human eyes.
Microscopes can be classified into different types – Optical, Electron, and Probe. The optical microscope is the most common type of microscope. It uses one or more lenses to produce an enlarged image at the focal point or the point of observation. However, even the best optical microscope that uses a laser to illuminate objects has limitations. The intense laser can destroy the biological sample under observation.
A laser microscope can magnify objects that are 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of human hair and produce exquisite details. It has transformed our understanding of cells and various aspects within, including DNA. However, the intensity of the laser used to illuminate the object can also destroy them.
Noise is one of the major problems for the optical microscope, and the use of an intense laser can solve this problem and achieve the best quality. The best microscope uses a laser that is billions of times brighter than sunlight which can cause the biological sample to become sick and die.
A team of researchers from Australia and Germany has a solution to this problem. They built a quantum microscope that uses entangled photons to probe the biological specimen gently. The introduction of quantum entangled photons reduces the noise drastically, and a less intense laser can produce similar quality images as the microscope using an intense laser.
So what is quantum entanglement?
In quantum physics, entangled particles remain connected to each other even when separated by great distances. As a result, actions performed on one of the particles affect the other. Using this principle, researchers can control the photons that leave the microscope resulting in less noise at the observation point or focal plane.
However, the key challenge is to produce a quantum entangled photon beam that is bright enough to be used in a microscope. The researchers achieved this by concentrating the photons into laser pulses a few billionths of a second long, producing an entanglement that is 1,000 billion times brighter than previously used in imaging.
This entangled beam produced images that were 35 times brighter than their laser counterparts. Also, this type of microscope enabled them to observe the vibrations of molecules within a living cell, which otherwise is impossible to observe using traditional methods.
Nowadays, quantum technologies are making inroads into practical applications. For example, they are already in use in the financial and government agencies for secured communications. A quantum computer can solve equations that are practically not possible for conventional computers. Quantum sensors are another large piece in the puzzle that promises better accuracy and widespread applications.
According to the researchers, their work shows that quantum technology could have big ramifications for microscopy and many other applications such as global positioning, radar, and navigation.
The research is published in Nature.
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