Diamond nanopillar arrays for quantum microscopy of neuronal signals

Liam Hanlon, Vini Gautam, James D.A. Wood, Prithvi Reddy, Michael S.J. Barson, Marika Niihori, Alexander R.J. Silalahi, Ben Corry, Jörg Wrachtrup, Matthew J. Sellars, Vincent R. Daria, Patrick Maletinsky, Gregory J. Stuart, Marcus W. Doherty

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Significance:Wide-field measurement of cellular membrane dynamics with high spatiotemporal resolution can facilitate analysis of the computing properties of neuronal circuits. Quantum microscopy using a nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center is a promising technique to achieve this goal. Aim: We propose a proof-of-principle approach to NV-based neuron functional imaging. Approach: This goal is achieved by engineering NV quantum sensors in diamond nanopillar arrays and switching their sensing mode to detect the changes in the electric fields instead of the magnetic fields, which has the potential to greatly improve signal detection. Apart from containing the NV quantum sensors, nanopillars also function as waveguides, delivering the excitation/ emission light to improve sensitivity. The nanopillars also improve the amplitude of the neuron electric field sensed by the NV by removing screening charges. When the nanopillar array is used as a cell niche, it acts as a cell scaffolds which makes the pillars function as biomechanical cues that facilitate the growth and formation of neuronal circuits. Based on these growth patterns, numerical modeling of the nanoelectromagnetics between the nanopillar and the neuron was also performed. Results: The growth study showed that nanopillars with a 2-μm pitch and a 200-nm diameter show ideal growth patterns for nanopillar sensing. The modeling showed an electric field amplitude as high as ≈1.02 × 1010 mV/m at an NV 100 nm from the membrane, a value almost 10 times the minimum field that the NV can detect. Conclusion: This proof-of-concept study demonstrated unprecedented NV sensing potential for the functional imaging of mammalian neuron signals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number035002
Number of pages12
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Nanopillars
  • neuroimaging
  • neuromodeling
  • neurons
  • nitrogen-vacancy

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