From earlier detection of blood blockages to easier testing of the quality of wine, Australia was playing a leading role in the third light-powered revolution, an elite physicist said.
Professor Tanya Monro said developments in the use of photons, or particles of light, would allow new or improved measurements in everything from the earth's crust to embryos, with major commercial and medical benefits likely.
"This is the third revolution: the first was generating photons, the invention of the laser and photons with very specific properties on demand, and the second was communicating, working out how to transport them over hundreds and thousand of kilometres down transparent optical fibres," she said.
"The third is using them to interrogate the materials through which they pass."
The University of South Australia's deputy vice-chancellor for research and innovation, and a member of the Prime Minister's Commonwealth Science Council, Professor Monro said techniques of putting small holes in optical fibres had created the ability to collect biological samples smaller in volume than a single cell.
"Measurements that previously would have been made on aggregates of cells, outside the body, could now in principle be done inside the body," she said.
"We're developing probes, for example, looking at plaque in the cardiovascular system, and essentially fingerprinting those plaques [to find if] they will survive with you to your ripe old age and cause you no issue, or is it a nasty one that could break off and form a blood clot?"
The Centre for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, led out of South Australia, was also working on ways to monitor embryos, helping to understand how their environment changed their development.
Professor Monro, 43, said Australia had a particular edge in photonics, a historical strength which had only grown in the last decade.
The new use of photonics could deliver massive cost-savings for miners, who currently have to make continued use of million-dollar equipment to pick up a core sample which then goes off to a lab, with results often taking months to return.
"Instead, at the time of drilling, you could put a probe or sensor on the drill and say, "tell us when we go in what's there"," she said.
Professor Monro said advanced photonics-led analysis at wineries could improve quality control and reduce wine wastage.
In-body sensors were probably 10-plus years away, and the mining application had not been implemented on a drill bit yet, she said.
"I myself with colleagues have a company developing finger nail-sized lasers which we're manufacturing," she said.
Professor Monro, who spoke at the National Press Club on Wednesday as part of a panel looking at gender equality in STEM fields, returns to Canberra on April 5 to speak about the light revolution at The Shine Dome.