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Quantum measurement and orientation tracking of fluorescent nanodiamonds inside living cells

Abstract

Fluorescent particles are routinely used to probe biological processes1. The quantum properties of single spins within fluorescent particles have been explored in the field of nanoscale magnetometry2,3,4,5,6,7,8, but not yet in biological environments. Here, we demonstrate optically detected magnetic resonance of individual fluorescent nanodiamond nitrogen-vacancy centres inside living human HeLa cells, and measure their location, orientation, spin levels and spin coherence times with nanoscale precision. Quantum coherence was measured through Rabi and spin-echo sequences over long (>10 h) periods, and orientation was tracked with effective 1° angular precision over acquisition times of 89 ms. The quantum spin levels served as fingerprints, allowing individual centres with identical fluorescence to be identified and tracked simultaneously. Furthermore, monitoring decoherence rates in response to changes in the local environment may provide new information about intracellular processes. The experiments reported here demonstrate the viability of controlled single spin probes for nanomagnetometry in biological systems, opening up a host of new possibilities for quantum-based imaging in the life sciences.

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Figure 1: Quantum measurement of single spins in living cells.
Figure 2: Confocal image of a HeLa cell containing two isolated nanodiamonds with single NV centres and their measured ODMR spectra.
Figure 3: Quantum coherence properties of the probes NV-1a and NV-1b in HeLa-1.
Figure 4: NV axis rotation owing to motion of the nanodiamonds in HeLa-1.
Figure 5: Orientation tracking of NV-2 in HeLa-2.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank F. Jelezko and A. Johnston for helpful discussions and advice, and S. Szilagyi for technical assistance. This work was supported by the Australian Research Council under the Centre of Excellence scheme (CE110001027), the Discovery Project scheme (DP0770715 and DP0877360), the Federation Fellowship Scheme (FF0776078) and the Baden-Wuerttemberg Foundation.

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Contributions

L.P.M., A.S., D.S. and R.E.S. designed and constructed the confocal/ESR system, performed the measurements and carried out the data analysis. Y.Y. and F.C. planned and conducted the cellular uptake experiments, and analysed the data. D.M., L.T.H. and L.C.L.H. carried out the theoretical analyses. L.C.L.H., J.W., F.C., P.M. and S.P. conceived and directed the project. L.C.L.H. wrote the paper with contributions from all authors.

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Correspondence to L. C. L. Hollenberg.

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McGuinness, L., Yan, Y., Stacey, A. et al. Quantum measurement and orientation tracking of fluorescent nanodiamonds inside living cells. Nature Nanotech 6, 358–363 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1038/nnano.2011.64

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