A team of Hub researchers at the University of Sussex have for the first time built a modular quantum brain scanner, and used it to record a brain signal. This is the first time a brain signal has been detected using a modular quantum brain sensor anywhere in the world.
This is a major milestone for all researchers working on quantum brain imaging technology because modular sensors can be scaled up, like Lego bricks. The team have also connected two sensors like ‘Lego bricks’ proving that whole-brain scanning using this method is within reach – as detailed in their paper, which is published today in pre-print. This has not been possible with the current commercially available quantum brain sensors from the United States.
The modular devices work like play bricks in that they can be connected together. This opens up the potential for whole-brain scanning using quantum technology, and potential advances for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
The device, which was built at the Quantum Systems and Devices laboratory at the University, uses ultra-sensitive quantum sensors to pick up these tiniest of magnetic fields to see inside the brain in order to map the neural activity.
The team applied the sensors to outside of a participant’s scalp, close to the visual cortex of the brain. They asked the participant to open and close their eyes at 10-20 second intervals, and were able to detect a signal. This is a very simple action, but to see it happening inside the brain – from the outside – requires hugely sophisticated quantum technology.
Professor Kai Bongs, Principal Investigator at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing
Thomas Coussens, PhD student at the University of Sussex
Professor Peter Krüger, Experimental Physicist and Director of the Sussex Programme for Quantum Research at the University of Sussex
The quantum magnetic sensor uses an optically pumped magnetometer inside a magnetic shield to reduce environmental magnetic fields and ensure they are not being detected. In simple terms, the sensor works by putting a vapour into a quantum state, shining a laser beam through it and using a photo detector to see how much light has gone through. How the atomic vapour interacts with the laser light very sensitively depends on the magnetic field. The tiny electric currents in the neurons in the brain lead to very small magnetic fields even outside the brain which is what the sensor picks up.
Hub researchers involved in this project: Professor Peter Krüger, Thomas Coussens, Dr Christopher Abel, Katerina Gialopsou, Dr Mark Bason, Professor Mara Cercignani, Fedja Orucevic and Dr Tim James.
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