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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S000992/1
Title: Ultra-sensitive atomic magnetometry for brain function diagnostics
Principal Investigator: Guarrera, Dr V
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
AWE Magnetic Shields Limited National Physical Laboratory
Department: School of Physics and Astronomy
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship - NHFP
Starts: 29 June 2018 Ends: 28 December 2022 Value (£): 678,771
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
08 May 2018 EPSRC UKRI CL Innovation Fellowship Interview Panel 1 - 8 and 9 May 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The huge progress achieved in the manipulation of quantum systems is opening novel routes towards the generation of realistic quantum-based technology. Notably many counterintuitive manifestations of quantum mechanics are turning to be key features for the next generation devices, whose performances will beat those of classical machines. Quantum sensors, in particular, exploit the intrinsic "weakness" of quantum systems, their extreme sensitivity to external perturbations, to provide measurements of the perturbing fields with unprecedented sensitivity and stability. This project targets the realization of ultra-sensitive quantum magnetometers based on neutral atoms at room temperature, for studying the brain function by accessing its connectivity.

Detection of very small magnetic fields of biological origin allows a non-invasive study of the spatial and time dependence of bio-currents. Therefore, a logical and very promising direction of application of non-invasive ultra-sensitive quantum magnetometers is the realization of probes for measuring the magnetic fields generated by the neuronal activity of the human brain. Recent technological developments have made it possible to employ atomic magnetometers (AMs) in the context of magnetoencephalography (MEG) analysis. Here we propose to further develop AMs-based MEG for accessing information on the brain connectivity, by combining these quantum sensors with the technique of transcranial brain stimulation (TMS). Indeed, the nerve cells of the brain can be inductively stimulated by applying a short but strong magnetic pulse localized at a specific region of the brain. Causal brain connectivity will be directly studied by measuring the magnetic response of different brain areas to this stimulus. The aim is to estimate the directional coupling and the temporal interaction of different brain sectors, which requires sensors with large sensitivity, real-time operation, and adequate spatial resolution.

The core of this project is the realization of all-optical AMs compatible with TBS. The key point is that the sensors need to rapidly recover following a relatively strong magnetic stimulation, to record the brain signals no more than few tens ms after the pulse. The integration of AM sensors and TMS coil will be done in few steps, with the goal of both minimizing the effects induced by the TMS coil and shortening the sensor dead-time. The sensor will be then prepared for operation in a medical environment. In parallel, we will boost the miniaturization of the AMs, which is necessary for achieving a millimetre-spatial resolution and a dense package of the sensors over the head, and its measurement bandwidth. Miniaturization usually comes at the price of an important loss of sensitivity. To improve magnetic sensitivity in highly miniaturized sensors, we will prepare and use a class of entangled atomic states known as spin-squeezed states. We propose a novel, simple and robust way to achieve spin-squeezing, which has the potential to largely surpass state-of-the-art techniques in atomic magnetometry. Within this project, we expect to implement ultra-sensitive highly miniaturized AMs as innovative tools to directly measure human brain connectivity, for understanding healthy brain functionality, as well as for clinical diagnostics and treatment of brain injuries and neurological disorders.

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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk