The University of California, Santa Barbara Quantum Sensing and Imaging Group has found a way to improve spatial resolution using their newly developed technology. The team, led by Ania Jayich, invented new sensor technology with better spatial resolution ability and sensitivity capability.
“We have developed this new type of sensor, that is a quantum-based sensor, that gives us the ability to sense and image materials with very high space resolution,” Jayich said, in an interview with The Bottom Line. “It gives us new insight into materials using the quantum technology of our small-scale sensor.”
Spatial resolution is how closely features can be resolved. Once there are objects closer together than 500 nanometers, there is no way to optically distinguish what is located on those objects. Therefore, with this technology, they can observe objects that are spaced five to 10 nanometers.
“An example of spatial resolution is if you look at a tree outside with two grains of rice on it, you wouldn’t be able to see that there are two grains of rice from where you are standing,” Jayich said. “If they are closer, you can see that there are two grains of rice. If I were to make smaller and smaller objects at one point, there is no point that you can actually visually discern those two objects once the objects become closely spaced in the wavelength of light of five nanometers.”
The quantum sensor consists of a bristle, composed of a single solid nanofabricated diamond crystal with a special defect and a nitrogen-vacancy center. One of the characteristics enabled with this structure is its magnetism. Through the use of this technology, they have been able look at a magnetic hard drive and semiconductors.
“We developed a new tool based on atomic scale defects to be able to image with better spatial resolution than we could do before,” Jayich said. “We fabricate our probe in the clean room and the features that we use are certainly in the nanometer scale. We should be able to start imaging features on the size scale of atoms.”
One of the team’s long-term goals is to use the sensor to examine the structure of a protein. The sensor is small and powerful enough to detect small alterations.
“I think it is a noble goal to go after because proteins regulate all the functions in your body, so it is really important to understand how they work,” Jayich said. “Their function is very intimately tied into their form, as form dictates its function. Protein function is absolutely vital for all the processes in our bodies, so fully understanding proteins is essential. In the whole field of structural biology, that is the Holy Grail.”
Currently, the team is interested in looking how properties of materials come about. They are primarily interested in understanding how the properties of materials emerge.
“Why is a material metallic?” Jayich said. “Why is a material insulating? Why is a material semiconducting? Using this probe, we can look at a material and understand how these properties emerge from, really, the microscopic features in the sample.”