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  • Haneen Sakaji

Can Quantum Sensing Cure Cancer?

“Can quantum technologies improve cancer research and treatment?” - Raymonde Laflamme

Researchers at the University of Waterloo, namely Michael Riemer, have demonstrated a significant improvement in long-range 3D imaging and monitoring of cancer treatment. The main issue with radiation therapy today, is the dosage of radiation needed to kill the tumor is not precise enough. Thus, a lot of healthy cells are killed. The idea of using a single photon detector to deliver radiation to a tumor is that it has the ability to detect every photon delivered, meaning the health practitioner could monitor the dose being given with incredible precision.

Semiconducting Nanowire - “quantum wires”

A semiconductor nanowire is a thin wire made of semiconductor material, with a diameter that is less or equal to 100 nanometers. At this scale, quantum effects are significant, hence the term “quantum wires” Riemer and his team developed their quantum sensor by optimizing the arrangement of this nanowire array to achieve fast response time. This was achieved by enhancing the quality of the materials, the number of nanowires, doping profile and optimization of nanowire shape and arrangement. This sensor is also capable of detecting a broad spectrum of light with high efficiency and high timing resolution, while operating at room temperature. This is a huge advancement as the portability and usability of such detectors has been a limitation given they need to be cooled to three kelvin. To further advance these single photon detectors work is being done on the material itself.

Semiconductor nanowire metamaterial for broadband near-unity absorption

The researchers are also working on developing a new material which promises more light absorption. “This new research discovery will have significant implications for wavelengths used in dose monitoring for cancer treatments, telecommunications, defence and optical coherence tomography to detect blinding diseases sooner,” said Reimer. Previous silicon and alloy-based photodetectors used for eye imaging have a limited efficiency at wavelengths of light between 800 nm and 1000 nm. The new material will allow the sensor to detect wavelengths of light in the range of 900 nm to 1650 nm

Next steps

Could a quantum sensor powerful enough to detect a single cancerous cell in the human body be built? This would be a remarkable advancement in early cancer detection!





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