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Quantum sensing is transforming our world. The rapidly developing technology relies on the complicated behavior of subatomic particles, allowing scientists to innovate sensors that are not only more intuitive and faster than current sensors, but that can be applied to even more sectors than current ones, helping to push forward the fourth industrial revolution, which will be characterized by the use of artificial intelligence and the internet of things merging with our daily lives.
Quantum sensors have been developed that can increase the performance of long-range 3D imaging, enhancing the capabilities of monitoring the progress of cancer treatments. This year, revolutionary sensors were developed that are based on semiconductor nanowires with the ability to detect single particles of light. The sensors have high timing resolution, speed, and efficiency, and can detect light of wavelengths from ultraviolet to near-infrared.
Dose monitoring in cancer treatment will benefit from the development of these sensors, which can be used for singlet oxygen detection. The sensors are still in the prototype phase, but we can expect them to be leaving the confines of the lab shortly, and to be put to work in hospitals in order to improve cancer treatment.
Detection of Degenerative Diseases
We already have the technology to provide high-resolution images of the brain, such as MRI, which are instrumental to the detection of disease. In particular, imaging is crucial for the diagnosis of degenerative diseases, where MRI is often used to confirm the decay of neurological matter.
However, in diagnosis and monitoring of certain degenerative diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, MRI’s capabilities are not extensive enough in order to pick up the changes in processing speed from the spinal cord to the brain. New quantum sensors have been designed with these capabilities as their imaging efficiency will be stronger than that of MRI.
Planning and Executing Construction Projects
Outside of the medical sector, quantum sensors have further useful applications within the construction industry. Right now, engineers and surveyors must carry out extensive explorations of the ground underneath where they plan to build. Current methods for doing this are expensive, time-consuming, and difficult.
Fortunately, quantum sensors have been developed that use laser-cooled rubidium atoms to detect small underground structures. The sensors propel the rubidium upward in a vacuum; they then measure the atoms as gravity pulls them down.
These measurements can give information on small fluctuations that can represent small but important structural changes beneath the ground. The sensors will be used to speed up surveying time while keeping costs down.
Currently, scientists rely on an entire arsenal of equipment in order to monitor the activity of volcanoes, such as seismometers, gas monitors, ground deformation recorders, infrared cameras, and satellite imagers. Quantum sensors are set to make a shift in the way information is recorded at these dangerous sites.
The sensors will be able to detect magma chambers filling up below the ground, and therefore alert to changes in volcanic activity. As well as being up to ten times cheaper than current methods, the sensors also remove the need for scientists to be working on-site at the volcano. Sensors are currently up and running at Mount Etna in Sicily, and we can expect the technology to be taken up at other sites in the near future.
As well as aiding with volcano monitoring, quantum sensors have been developed with capabilities to monitor other environmental aspects. Levels of air pollutants, water, and soil pollutants and toxic pathogens are of paramount importance to protecting the health of citizens within urban areas.
To name a few examples, quantum sensors have the capability to detect air pollutants such as CO, NOx, and SOx. The sensitivity of quantum-enhanced sensors is far greater than that of current sensors, and they open up the possibility to monitor levels precisely in real-time.
Finally, given the capabilities of quantum sensors, the military has become focussed on their development in a number of applications, from the generation of positioning data, to submarine detection.
The use of quantum sensors is really just at the beginning. As development continues, further global sectors will take advantage of their capabilities, and we will see them being used in a myriad of applications.