Professor Lloyd Hollenberg

2013 Victoria Prize for Science & Innovation

Imperfect diamonds could help answer fundamental questions in the life sciences, thanks to groundbreaking research by Victorian physicist, Professor Lloyd Hollenberg. In world first experiments, Professor Hollenberg and his team demonstrated nanodiamond quantum sensing technology in a living cell with sensitivity and resolution a million times greater than any conventional MRI system in the world.

The quantum sensor, a single atom defect in a diamond crystal called a nitrogen-vacancy centre, has the potential to revolutionise sensing and imaging at the atomic and molecular levels. The combination of the special properties of diamond and the quantum properties of the nitrogen-vacancy centre are one of nature’s remarkable coincidences and allows the device to detect the very small magnetic fields arising from individual atoms and molecules. With human life beginning and ending with atoms and molecules, a quantum sensor will provide us views of life at this fundamental level in a way never before experienced.

Internationally, there is huge interest in the potential of quantum technologies. Working at the convergence of quantum mechanics and biology, Professor Hollenberg is sparking a new era of nanoscale magnetic imaging with research spanning quantum physics, chemistry, bioengineering, materials science and biology. As a result, he and his team have demonstrated that sensors based on the strange rules of quantum mechanics can offer new tools to address important problems in biology.

Professor Hollenberg received the 2012 Walter Boas Medal for pioneering work in quantum sensing and quantum computing. In 2013, he was awarded an Australian Research Council Australian Laureate Fellowship and was part of the team that received the 2013 Eureka Prize for Excellence in Interdisciplinary Scientific Research. According to ABC’s Catalyst, his work is “a quantum leap in theoretical physics, that’s poised to make a huge impact in cell biology”.

Professor Hollenberg is Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology within the Department of Physics at the University of Melbourne.