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HKU Unveils Quantum Sensing Breakthrough

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A groundbreaking advancement in widefield quantum sensing has emerged from a collaborative effort led by Professor Zhiqin Chu, Professor Can Li, and Professor Ngai Wong at the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering of the University of Hong Kong (HKU).

Through cooperation with scientists from Mainland China and Germany, the team has pioneered a revolutionary quantum sensing technology employing a neuromorphic vision sensor, modelled after the human visual system. This innovation encodes changes in fluorescence intensity into spikes during optically detected magnetic resonance (ODMR) measurements, promising heightened speed and resolution in scientific inquiry and practical applications.

Published in the journal Advanced Science under the title “Widefield Diamond Quantum Sensing with Neuromorphic Vision Sensors,” the research marks a significant stride forward. Traditional methods of enhancing measurement accuracy and spatiotemporal resolution in camera sensors have grappled with the challenge of managing vast data volumes transferred from the sensors for processing. This transfer bottleneck often restricts temporal resolution to around 100 fps due to the frame-based nature of image sensors.

Zhiyuan Du, the paper’s lead author and a PhD candidate in the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, emphasised the team’s resolve to surmount this obstacle. Inspired by his professors’ focus on quantum sensing and driven by a passion for integrating sensing and computing, Du sees the latest breakthrough as offering fresh perspectives for high-precision, low-latency widefield quantum sensing. He envisions possibilities for integration with emerging memory devices to realise more intelligent quantum sensors.

The team’s experiment with an off-the-shelf event camera yielded a remarkable 13× improvement in temporal resolution while maintaining comparable precision in detecting ODMR resonance frequencies compared to state-of-the-art frame-based approaches. This new technology found successful application in monitoring dynamically modulated laser heating of gold nanoparticles coated on a diamond surface, a task challenging to accomplish with existing methods.

Unlike conventional sensors that record light intensity levels, neuromorphic vision sensors process light intensity changes into “spikes,” akin to biological vision systems, resulting in improved temporal resolution (≈µs) and dynamic range (>120 dB). This approach proves particularly effective in scenarios where image changes are infrequent, such as object tracking and autonomous vehicles, as it eliminates redundant static background signals.

Professor Zhiqin Chu anticipates that the demonstrated method will revolutionise widefield quantum sensing, significantly enhancing performance at an affordable cost. Professor Can Li notes that this advancement also brings the realisation of near-sensor processing with emerging memory-based electronic synapse devices closer to fruition. Professor Ngai Wong underscores the technology’s potential for industrial use, urging further exploration into studying dynamic changes in currents in materials and identifying defects in microchips.

The collaborative project led by the HKU team, in conjunction with international partners, signifies a milestone in quantum sensing technology. By leveraging neuromorphic vision sensors and pioneering methods to encode fluorescence intensity changes into spikes, the team has overcome traditional data transfer bottlenecks, paving the way for enhanced temporal resolution and precision in widefield quantum sensing applications. This breakthrough holds immense promise for diverse scientific research endeavours and practical applications across industries, driving innovation and progress in the field of electrical and electronic engineering.


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