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First Modular Sensor Detects Brain Signals

For the first time, researchers from the University of Sussex have developed a new modular quantum brain scanner to record brain signals. This is the first-ever breakthrough where a brain signal was detected using a modular quantum brain sensor in the world.

First Modular Sensor Detects Brain Signals.
An image of the brain signal which was recorded by the Sussex team. Image Credit: University of Sussex.

This advancement also represents a major achievement for all scientists working on quantum brain imaging technology, because, similar to Lego bricks, modular sensors can also be scaled up.

The researchers have also linked two sensors, just like Lego bricks, to prove that whole-brain scanning using this technique could soon become a reality — as described in the team’s article. But this has not been viable with present-day commercial quantum sensors available in the United States.

The modular device operates similarly to bricks where they can be easily linked together. This paves the way for whole-brain scanning using quantum technology, promising advances in neurodegeneration disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

The sensor was built at the Quantum Systems and Devices Laboratory at the University of Sussex. It uses ultra-sensitive quantum sensors to detect even the tiniest of magnetic fields to map the neural activity in the brain.

The researchers placed the sensors on the exterior of a participant’s scalp, near the virtual cortex of the brain. The participant was then directed to open and close his eyes at an interval of 10 to 20 seconds. Although this is a simple action, to see it occurring within the brain, from the outside, needs highly advanced quantum technology.

Our quantum sensor has to be exceptionally sensitive to pick up the magnetic fields in the brain which are very weak indeed. To put it into context, the magnetic field of a brain is a trillion times lower than that of a fridge magnet.

Thomas Coussens, PhD Student, University of Sussex

Coussens, who also built the new sensor, added, “Because our device is so-far unique in that it is modular - and we've shown the modularity works by connecting two sensors together — we now plan to scale up this project by building more sensors to turn this into an entire brain imaging system. This could provide significant advancements in detecting and delivering treatment for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” 

This is the culmination of many months of hard work and I am thrilled to see our first brain signal using our very own quantum sensors built entirely by us here at the University of Sussex.

Thomas Coussens, PhD Student, University of Sussex

Peter Kruger, Professor, Experimental Physicist, and Director of Sussex Programme for Quantum Research, University of Sussex, stated, “As our sensor works on a modular basis, we will now be able to scale it up to create much more detailed images of the brain or parts of the brain. You can’t do that with the current commercial product available. This new sensor built at the University of Sussex opens the door for UK-produced quantum sensors, hugely important in the wider UK quantum technology landscape.”

To have this sensor is a major step to further interdisciplinary studies involving researchers ranging from consciousness scientists and engineers to neuroscientists which is very much in the spirit of how we tackle research here at Sussex,” added Professor Kruger.

We are delighted with this ground-breaking development by Hub researchers at the University of Sussex. These successes are helping considerably to advance the UK quantum ecosystem, bringing us a step closer to exploiting quantum sensor technology in clinical applications that will have real societal impact. Building a strong quantum brain imaging capability in the UK is a great example of our collaboration.

Kai Bongs, Principal Investigator and Professor, UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing

The quantum magnetic sensors employ an optically pumped magnetometer within a magnetic shield to decrease the detection of environmental magnetic fields and make sure that they are not being detected. In other words, the sensor operates by introducing vapor into a quantum state, illuminating a laser beam through it and utilizing a photodetector to observe the amount of light that has passed through.

The amount of light that interacts with the laser light quite sensitively will rely on the magnetic field. The minute electric currents in the brain neurons resulṭ in small magnetic fields even outside the brain and these are eventually detected by the sensors.

The research team involved 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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