We present a new class of single-photon devices for counting of both visible and infrared photons. Our superconducting single-photon detectors (SSPDs) are characterized by the intrinsic quantum efficiency (QE) reaching up to 100%, above 10 GHz counting rate, and negligible dark counts. The detection mechanism is based on the photon-induced hotspot formation and subsequent appearance of a transient resistive barrier across an ultrathin and submicron-wide superconducting stripe. The devices are fabricated from 3.5-nm-thick NbN films and operate at 4.2 K, well below the NbN superconducting transition temperature. Various continuous and pulsed laser sources in the wavelength range from 0.4 μm up to >3 μm were implemented in our experiments, enabling us to determine the detector QE in the photon-counting mode, response time, and jitter. For our best 3.5-nm-thick, 10×10 μm2-area devices, QE was found to reach almost 100% for any wavelength shorter than about 800 nm. For longer-wavelength (infrared) radiation, QE decreased exponentially with the photon wavelength increase. Time-resolved measurements of our SSPDs showed that the system-limited detector response pulse width was below 150 ps. The system jitter was measured to be 35 ps. In terms of the counting rate, jitter, and dark counts, the NbN SSPDs significantly outperform their semiconductor counterparts. Already identifeid and implemented applications of our devices range from noninvasive testing of semiconductor VLSI circuits to free-space quantum communications and quantum cryptography.
We have developed a new class of superconducting single-photon detectors (SSPDs) for ultrafast counting of infrared (IR) photons for secure quantum communications. The devices are operated on the quantum detection mechanism, based on the photon-induced hotspot formation and subsequent appearance of a transient resistive barrier across an ultrathin and submicron-wide superconducting stripe. The detectors are fabricated from 3.5-nm-thick NbN films and they operate at 4.2 K inside a closed-cycle refrigerator or liquid helium cryostat. Various continuous and pulsed laser sources have been used in our experiments, enabling us to determine the detector experimental quantum efficiency (QE) in the photon-counting mode, response time, time jitter, and dark counts. Our 3.5-nm-thick SSPDs reached QE above 15% for visible light photons and 5% at 1.3 - 1.5 μm infrared range. The measured real-time counting rate was above 2 GHz and was limited by the read-out electronics (intrinsic response time is <30 ps). The measured jitter was <18 ps, and the dark counting rate was <0.01 per second. The measured noise equivalent power (NEP) is 2 x 10-18 W/Hz1/2 at λ = 1.3 μm. In near-infrared range, in terms of the counting rate, jitter, dark counts, and overall sensitivity, the NbN SSPDs significantly outperform their semiconductor counterparts. An ultrafast quantum cryptography communication technology based on SSPDs is proposed and discussed.
We report our studies on the performance of new NbN ultrathin-film superconducting single-photon detectors (SSPDs). Our SSPDs exhibit experimentally measured quantum efficiencies from ~ 5% at wavelength λ = 1550 nm up to ~10% at λ = 405 nm, with exponential, activation-energy-type spectral sensitivity dependence in the 0.4-μm - 3-μm wavelength range. Using a variable optical delay setup, we have shown that our NbN SSPDs can resolve optical photons with a counting rate up to 10 GHz, presently limited by the read-out electronics. The measured device jitter was below 35 ps under optimum biasing conditions. The extremely high photon counting rate, together with relatively high (especially for λ > 1 μm) quantum efficiency, low jitter, and very low dark counts, make NbN SSPDs very promising for free-space communications and quantum cryptography.