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Nanoscale magnetic imaging with quantum sensors

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Tiny magnetic sensors promise huge revelations and insight

Much can be learned through what is visible to the naked eye but technical advances and instrumentation have expanded that view tremendously. Get ready for an eye-opener as EU-funded scientists launch a quantum microscope for non-invasive magnetic imaging of materials at unprecedented resolution.

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Observation and experimentation inform us about the physical world around us. From telescopes to atomic force microscopes (AFMs), instrumentation has revealed the magic that occurs too far away or on too small a scale to be observed otherwise. Now, European researchers at Qnami, a Swiss start-up, have developed pioneering quantum nanosensors. The nanosensors enable ‘visualisation’ of samples non-invasively with the highest spatial resolution on the market. EU-funding of the NanoMAGIQ project has brought market insight, helping the team to position itself for additional funding, technology optimisation, and product launch.

Diamonds are a quantum sensor’s best friends

According to Mathieu Munsch, CEO of Qnami and project coordinator, “In contrast to quantum computing that requires minimising the influence of the environment (for example, by working in a vacuum at cryogenic temperatures), quantum sensing leverages the extreme sensitivity of quantum systems to their environment to make very precise measurements.” Building on pioneering work from the Quantum Sensing Lab in the Department of Physics at the University of Basel, Qnami has focused on a unique quantum sensing technology using nitrogen-vacancy NV centres in diamond, tiny defects that can trap a single electron. Precise manipulation and measurement of the state of a single electron enables highly sensitive measurement of electric and magnetic fields. Using standard microfabrication processes, Qnami functionalises and cuts diamonds to create magnetic quantum sensors. As Munsch explains, “By integrating the quantum sensors in an AFM, we enable extremely high-resolution pictures of samples combining topography and magnetic landscape. Currently, our lateral resolution is around 50 nm and we aim to achieve 10 nm resolution.” That is just shy of resolving your DNA, approximately 2.5 nm in diameter.

Magnetic nanosensors are attracting attention

According to Munsch, “Aside from having the highest spatial resolution on the market, Qnami’s magnetic imaging solution is non-invasive, allowing scientists to study the most fragile materials and most delicate designs with unprecedented detail.” In addition, exact values are extracted in a straightforward way, yielding quantitative results that are reproducible. Engineers and scientists working in spintronics are early adopters of the technology. Munsch explains, “All hard disk drives since the 90s use spintronics technology. Tomorrow, it might be the case for every computer chip. Our goal is to support these engineers and scientists with unique and quantitative information about their devices so that they can create, design, and deliver the electronics of the future. Our collaboration with Horiba to develop the first prototype goes in this direction.” Qnami is gearing up for rapid market penetration, planning further expansion in 2020. The company will be recruiting people for positions in engineering, sales, marketing, business development and more, and strongly encourages women to apply. Munsch concludes, “With NanoMAGIQ, we set up a project with ambitious goals. The interaction with our future customers was extremely rich, helping us shape our ideas beyond what we anticipated and affirming our conviction that we are meeting an important demand.” Get ready for the quantum wave and revelations about materials and devices previously impossible to achieve.

Keywords

NanoMAGIQ, quantum, resolution, magnetic, Qnami, nitrogen-vacancy (NV), quantum sensing, samples, nanosensors, diamond, atomic force microscope (AFM), molecules, magnetic imaging, spintronics

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