Mikael Backlund

 Mikael Backlund

Contact Information

Department of Chemistry
600 S. Mathews Avenue
Urbana, IL 61801
Assistant Professor
Visit Website


Professor Backlund received his B.S. in Chemistry with a minor in Math from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010. He then pursued his graduate studies at Stanford University as a Robert and Marvel Kirby Stanford Graduate Fellow, where he conducted research in the lab of W. E. Moerner. After earning his Ph.D. in Chemistry (with concentration in Chemical Physics) in 2016, he joined the lab of Ron Walsworth as a postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Atomic and Molecular Physics at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Department of Physics at Harvard University. Prof. Backlund joined the faculty at UIUC in 2020.

Research Interests

  • Optical microscopy, quantum sensing, magnetic resonance, single-molecule and super-resolution microscopy, metrology, biophysics, condensed matter

Research Description

The Backlund lab develops and applies advanced optical microscopy techniques in order to resolve nanoscale heterogeneity in systems relevant to chemistry, materials, and biology.

Group members will have the opportunity to gain expertise in optics, quantum science, imaging science, single-molecule microscopy, biophysics, soft matter physics, and more. Our work is primarily experimental, but some projects have a significant theoretical component as well.

Projects include:

Nanoscale magnetic resonance microscopy using quantum defects in diamond

Nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers are fluorescent defects in diamond whose emission can be modulated by magnetic fields. This fact, coupled with the ability to bring NV centers within nanometers of molecular targets, enables nanoscale magnetic resonance spectroscopy and imaging. We will develop and apply this NV-mediated nanoscale magnetic resonance technology in order to unravel molecular-scale heterogeneity in target systems relevant to protein biophysics as well as soft and hard condensed matter physics.

Single-molecule microscopy as quantum metrology

Recent research has highlighted the utility in representing even semiclassical optical measurements as problems in quantum sensing and metrology. This approach yields fundamental precision bounds with which one could ever hope to measure things like the 3D position of a fluorescent molecule. We will continue to develop the theoretical underpinnings that limit optical microscopy measurements. This will lead us to design and build truly optimal measurement apparatuses, which will enable new observations in applications to the biophysical and condensed matter targets mentioned above.