A quantum hack for microscopes can reveal the undiscovered details of life | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED

A quantum hack for microscopes can reveal the undiscovered details of life

We built a quantum microscope that can more gently probe biological samples, which allowed us to observe biological structures that would otherwise be impossible to see.

Creating a damage-evading microscope like ours is a long-awaited milestone on international quantum technology roadmaps. It represents a first step into an exciting new era for microscopy, and for sensing technologies more broadly.

The problem with laser microscopes
The more recent invention of lasers provided an intense new kind of light. This made a whole new approach to microscopy possible. Laser microscopes allow us to see biology with truly exquisite detail, 10,000 times smaller than the thickness of a human hair. They were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and have transformed our understanding of cells and of molecules like DNA within them.

However, laser microscopes face a major problem. The very quality that makes them successful – their intensity – is also their Achilles’ heel. The best laser microscopes use light billions of times brighter than sunlight on Earth. As you might imagine, this could cause serious sunburn!

In a laser microscope, biological samples can become sick or perish in seconds. You can see this happening in real time in the movie of a fibroblast cell below, taken by our team member Michael Taylor.