Quantum sensing with arbitrary frequency resolution

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Science  26 May 2017:
Vol. 356, Issue 6340, pp. 837-840
DOI: 10.1126/science.aam7009

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Enhancing quantum sensing

The quantum properties of the nitrogen vacancy (NV) defect in diamond can be used as an atomic compass needle that is sensitive to tiny variations in magnetic field. Schmitt et al. and Boss et al. successfully enhanced this sensitivity by several orders of magnitude (see the Perspective by Jordan). They applied a sequence of pulses to the NV center, the timing of which was set by and compared with a highly stable oscillator. This allowed them to measure the frequency of an oscillating magnetic field (megahertz bandwidth) with submillihertz resolution. Such enhanced precision measurement could be applied, for example, to improve nuclear magnetic resonance-based imaging protocols of single molecules.

Science, this issue p. 832, p. 837; see also p. 802


Quantum sensing takes advantage of well-controlled quantum systems for performing measurements with high sensitivity and precision. We have implemented a concept for quantum sensing with arbitrary frequency resolution, independent of the qubit probe and limited only by the stability of an external synchronization clock. Our concept makes use of quantum lock-in detection to continuously probe a signal of interest. Using the electronic spin of a single nitrogen-vacancy center in diamond, we demonstrate detection of oscillating magnetic fields with a frequency resolution of 70 microhertz over a megahertz bandwidth. The continuous sampling further guarantees an enhanced sensitivity, reaching a signal-to-noise ratio in excess of 104 for a 170-nanotesla test signal measured during a 1-hour interval. Our technique has applications in magnetic resonance spectroscopy, quantum simulation, and sensitive signal detection.

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