Australian Scientists Have Developed a New Tool for Imaging Life at the Nanoscale

"The sensing and imaging technology we are developing enables us to view life in completely new ways."

9. 6. 17 / Brad Jones
David Simpson/University of Melbourne

In a Spin

A group of scientists at the University of Melbourne have developed a new means of inspecting biochemistry at the nanoscale. The team’s study centers around a “quantum kangaroo” that is revealed by the tool’s capacity to detect electron spins at resolutions that were never before possible.

Electron spin resonance (ESR) methodology has been used to help scientists understand biochemical processes in biomechanical systems for quite some time. However, in the past, billions of electronic spins have been required to produce a legible image.

This new project uses an array of quantum probes in diamond to perform non-invasive ESR imaging at a sub-cellular resolution. It’s capable of producing images from only a few thousand electron spins.

“The sensing and imaging technology we are developing enables us to view life in completely new ways, with greater sensitivity and resolution derived from the fundamental interactions of sample and probe at the quantum mechanical level,” Professor Lloyd Hollenberg, who lead the project, told Phys.

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A Closer Look

It’s hoped that this new non-invasive technique could help researchers get a better idea of how transition metal ions like copper play into diseases affecting the brain.

“Transition metal ions are implicated in several neuro-degenerative diseases, however, little is known about their concentration and oxidation state within living cells,” Dr. David Simpson, lead author the paper and co-head of sensing and imaging at the Centre for Neural Engineering. explained to Phys.

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The University of Melbourne’s Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology is making great strides when it comes to using quantum technology to improve imaging techniques. In April 2017, a team at the institution was able to capture the movements of electrons in 2D graphene.

Nanotechnology is set to have a huge impact on medicine, and not just in terms of imaging. Recent advances have facilitated projects like a breathalyzer that can detect the flu, and a nanoparticle that can remove toxins administered by snake bites — but of course being able to check out what’s happening at the nanoscale is incredibly valuable in terms of both diagnosis and research.

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