Researchers at Texas A&M University have accomplished what was once considered impossible: They’ve created a device that can reduce quantum light fluctuations to a directed path and used it to improve contrast imaging.
This one-of-a-kind “flashlight” was designed to increase the signal-to-noise ratio present in Brillouin microscopy spectroscopic measurements that visually record the mechanical properties of structures inside living cells and tissues. Test results reveal that the new source significantly increases image clarity and accuracy.
“This is a new avenue of research,” said Dr. Vladislav Yakovlev, a university professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. “We specially design the light in such a way that it can improve the contrast.”
“This is a new step in the capabilities of widely used Brillouin microscopy and imaging for biological systems,” said Dr. Girish Agarwal, University Professor Emeritus in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the College of agriculture and life sciences. “And this is part of an international effort to develop quantum sensors for various applications such as brain imaging, mapping the structure of biomolecules and exploring underground sources of oil and water by designing gravimeters supersensitive.”
An article detailing the work was published in OPTICAL.
All instruments capable of capturing an image or image also capture signal distortions, or noise, in the process. Distortions can be caused by too much or too little light and even problems with the brightness or color of the environment around the subject. Most noise goes unnoticed until the image is magnified enough for the naked eye to see unwanted pixels clearly.
Brillouin microscopy is the fundamental limit of currently possible small-scale measurement imaging. The process aims lasers at solid objects and measures the waves or vibrational signals emitted by moving atoms and structures in the visibly still material.
Noise produced at this scale can severely obscure received signals, creating blurry images that are difficult to interpret. Currently, all laser spectroscopy systems like Brillouin microscopy suffer from the natural and technical signal distortions associated with laser light, which is why new light sources are needed.
Six years ago, Yakovlev tried to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in Brillouin microscopy using intense light sources. Unfortunately, the overexposure to light damaged the cells he was imaging.
Yakovlev searched the literature for answers and found a theory from the 1980s that quantum light could solve the problem, though he didn’t mention how. Agarwal, an expert in quantum physics, offered a possible path. Dr. Tian Li, then a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Maryland, was hired to create the first quantum light lab at Texas A&M. The lab space was provided by Dr. Marlan Scully, director of the Institute of Quantum Science and Engineering.
The team faced two significant challenges: finding funds for such a crazy idea and finding graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to help them, ready to straddle the fields of biology and quantum physics.
After nearly two years of vigorous exploration, the device has evolved into a tabletop contraption of complex optical configurations and measuring instruments that have enabled researchers to adjust, direct and manipulate and effectively detect light. During this time, Li gained a better understanding of biology, and Yakovlev and Agarwal developed a mechanism to create the appropriate light state and matter needed for noise reduction without damaging living cells.
Although the light compression device can be adopted for other spectroscopic measurements such as Raman scattering, Yakovlev and Agarwal improve the capabilities of Brillouin microscopy to identify viscous or elastic materials in biological systems. These systems control the physical properties of cells and cellular structures and define everything from cell development to cancer progression.
Seeing the details clearly makes a huge difference in biomedical breakthroughs.
“Every time you get a new telescope or something like gravitational wave astronomy, you discover new things that you can’t see without it,” Yakovlev said. “The same thing works in biology. Before the invention of the microscope, we didn’t know that we were made up of individual cells.”
So far, only the contrast of spectroscopy images has been improved, but Yakovlev and Agarwal are already working on Agarwal’s theory to improve spatial resolution or the smallest possible details. And if the task leads to creating another complex device that pushes the limits of current technology, researchers are ready and willing to make it happen.
“I love these types of projects where people tell you something will never work, and it does,” Yakovlev said. “I like challenges.”
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Tian Li et al, Quantum stimulated Brillouin scattering spectroscopy and imaging, OPTICAL (2022). DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.467635
Provided by Texas A&M University College of Engineering
Quote: Quantum Light Source Advances Clarity in Bioimaging (September 19, 2022) Retrieved September 21, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-09-quantum-source-advances-bio-imaging- clarity.html
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