Researchers at the University of Bristol have combined quantum sensing and machine learning to detect magnetic fields with extreme sensitivity at room temperature.

The research could lead to a new generation of MRI scanners which use magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body, as well as further potential uses within biology and material science.

The team at the Quantum Engineering and Technology Labs (QETLabs) at the University of Bristol worked with the Institute for quantum optics of the University of Ulm and Microsoft used a quantum sensor based on the electron-spin in a Nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre in a diamond.

Nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centres are atomic defects that can be found or created in a diamond. They interact with single electrons, which can in turn be used for sensing both electric and magnetic fields. Bristol is one of the leading quantum sensor research centres in the UK.

“We expect that the deployment of our techniques can unlock unexplored regimes in a new generation of sensing experiments, where real-time tracking and enhanced sensitivities are crucial ingredients to explore phenomena at the nanoscale,” said Dr Anthony Laing, University of Bristol lead researcher.

Dr Raffaele Santagati, Research Associate at the University of Bristol’s Centre for Quantum Photonics, said: “Here we show how machine learning can help overcome these limitations to precisely track a fluctuating magnetic field at room temperature with a sensitivity typically reserved for cryogenic sensors.”