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By  Erin Grant 6 June 2024 3 min read

Key points

  • Quantum states collapse easily – but their fragility makes them useful for sensing the world’s tiniest phenomena.
  • Quantum sensing promises exciting new advances in fields as diverse as mining, medicine and materials.
  • Our researchers are working hard to ensure quantum technologies bring widespread benefits for all.

Quantum computers will one day offer us much greater computing power and efficiency. But a fully-fledged quantum computer is many years away. This is because it involves big engineering challenges.

To understand why, we need to take a closer look at what a quantum computer actually is.

A quantum is the smallest possible amount of something. In computing, it’s a quantum bit, or qubit. Qubits are the building blocks of quantum computers.  

When qubits are in a quantum state, they exist in all possible positions and velocities at the same time. In this state, they offer huge amounts of processing power. But keeping them in the quantum state long enough to use is extremely difficult. Even the smallest disturbance will cause the qubits to collapse and become unusable.

This fragility is a limitation in quantum computing. But it can be harnessed for quantum sensing.

Small but sensitive

Because quantum states are so sensitive, we can use them to measure things at incredibly small scales. This has huge potential to bring about a ‘quantum leap’ forward in fields from medicine to cybersecurity.


Quantum sensing builds on the principles of established technologies like Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRIs can show us the structures of organs, muscles and joints. But quantum sensing could show us the structure and activity of individual cells and molecules! 

So, what are some ways we could put quantum sensing to use?

Subtle magnetic appeal

One option uses low-strength magnetic fields. Quantum sensors could pick up tiny magnetic fields – right down to the scale of atoms! For example, in the mining industry, new sites for iron ore extraction could be identified via the subtle magnetic field iron emits.

Low-strength magnetic fields could also help people navigate in environments where GPS doesn’t work.

Another way we could use quantum sensing is to create new materials. Although quantum computing is receiving a lot of attention, regular computers are not going anywhere. In fact, we’ll only use more and more conventional computing power going into the future.  

As we build more powerful computers, we want to make sure they stay small and compact, and don’t use too much power. For this reason, electrical engineers are interested in new materials, such as graphene and perovskite, which will offer benefits over traditional silicon-based devices.  

Quantum sensing is helping in this domain by providing new techniques to understand the magnetic behaviour of these new materials. This will help scientists pick which materials are worth developing.

Peering into proteins

Bio-sensing is another potential use of quantum sensing. As scientists learn more about molecular biology, they're curious about how tiny things inside cells, like individual proteins, interact with each other.  

Quantum systems offer high sensitivity and resolution, which could give access to this level of detail. This would open new avenues of research and discovery. For example, our researchers are using quantum sensors to probe the structure, function, and interactions of proteins to develop and test new drugs.  

Sensing the future

We have research teams covering all these domains of quantum sensing. We are playing our part in the emerging quantum industry, by building infrastructure and training the next generation of resources. We’re determined to make sure that advances in quantum technologies benefit all Australians. 

In future, quantum will be more than advanced computing and new technologies will take advantage of the sensitivity offered by quantum systems. 

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