The world's best known portrait subject has been rendered on a 'quantum canvas' thinner than the width of a hair.

The miniature masterpiece is a reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa lasered onto a spec of gaseous quantum matter.

A laser projector stands in for a paint brush in a technique that had scientists beaming the slightly smirking muse back down a microscope to make it tiny.

The incredibly cold quantum matter reacts with the lasers, changes the density of the atoms to create different shaded pixels.

Dr Tyler Neely, from the University of Queensland in Australia, started making tiny artwork as a fun side project alongside his more serious research.

The original Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo the Vinci

“We never aimed to do this – we were originally looking to better understand the unsolved mysteries of how fluids flow,” Dr Neely said.

“We were hoping to gain new insights into how our everyday world arises out of the microscopic quantum world, helping us create new quantum-enhanced technologies.

“But, while we were at it, we just happened to create some of the world’s smallest masterpieces.”

Previous artworks have included Van Gogh's Starry Night and a recognisable rendering of one of the lab's physicists.

Dr Neely and his team cool a gas made of rubidium atoms down to a few billionths of a degree Celsius above absolute zero - which at minus 273.15 degrees Celcius is the coldest temperature possible.

Researchers also copied a photograph of one of the quantum physicists

“The gas doesn’t freeze since it is too diluted, instead behaving as a blob of gaseous quantum matter,” he said.

“We then put the image on a projector illuminated by a laser, but instead of projecting it to be large, we send it backwards through a microscope to make the image tiny.

“This light ‘stamps’ the image on an area around about 100 microns wide – more or less the width of human hair, which can range from between 17 to 181 microns wide.

An image displayed on the researchers' digital micromirror device

“We can then take the image, which is only in black and white, and produce colour shots by producing a ‘red’, ‘blue’, and ‘green’ image, and then combine them on a computer.”

The portraits are so small they can only just be seen with the human eye.

“Although these images are fascinating, extending the creative expression of this medium is the next step,” Dr Neely said.

“We’re now aiming to collaborate with an artist to help us realise a creative vision for this technology.”

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