Quantum imaging breakthrough could advance microscopy for medical research

Physicists from the University of Glasgow and Heriot-Watt University have developed a way to create detailed microscopic images by harnessing a quantum phenomenon known as Hong-Ou-Mandel (HOM) interference.

The method is being called a “breakthrough in quantum imaging”, and could lead to development of advanced forms of microscopy for use in medical research and diagnostics.

The Hong-Ou-Mandel effect demonstrates the perfect entanglement of two photons. The team from Glasgow applied the effect to microscopy and used it to create high-resolution images of clear acrylic on a microscopic slide, with results demonstrating the possibility of creating “detailed, low-noise images… with a resolution of between one and 10 microns, producing results close to that of a convention microscope.”

“Conventional microscopy using visible light has taught us a vast amount about the natural world and helped us make an incredible array of technological advances,” said Professor Daniele Faccio, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics and Astronomy, and lead author of the paper.

“However, it does have some limitations which can be overcome by using quantum light to probe the microscopic realm. In bioimaging, where cells can be almost entirely transparent, being able to examine their fine details without using conventional light could be a major advantage.”

Dr Faccio went on to add: “Now that we’ve established that it’s possible to build this kind of quantum microscopy by harnessing the Hong-Ou-Mandel effect, we’re keen to improve the technique to make it possible to resolve nanoscale images. It will require some clever engineering to achieve, but the prospect of being able to clearly see extremely small features like cell membranes or even strands of DNA is an exciting one. We’re looking forward to continuing to refine our design.”

The research, entitled “Quantum microscopy based on Hong-Ou-Mandel Interference”, was published in Nature Photonics. It was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant programme.