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Single photon detection based on superconducting nanowires

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Partner keyword: 
Magnetic and superconductor materials/devices
Quantum Informatics
Optical Technology related to measurements
Sensor Technology related to measurements
Other analytical and scientific instrumentation
Other medical imaging
Other industrial equipment and machinery
Other Industrial Products (not elsewhere classified)
Manufacture of other special-purpose machinery n.e.c.
Research and experimental development on biotechnology
Other research and experimental development on natural sciences and engineering
Other professional, scientific and technical activities n.e.c.


A Dutch SME is a producer of single photon detector systems. The detection principle is based on the transition of a nanowire from the superconductive to the resistive state upon the absorption of a single photon. Main advantages are unparalleled detection efficiencies and superior speed, time resolution and signal-to-noise ratio. The SME is interested in commercial agreements with technical assistance to companies interested in co-developing dedicated photon detectors for their application.



A Dutch SME is specialized in the development and production of single photon detectors.

Operation principle of the photon detector:
The superconducting nanowire single photon detector (SNSPD) is constituted by a thin film of superconducting material shaped into a meandering nanowire through nanofabrication processes. This pattern enables to cover a wide surface area, collecting the whole output of an optical fibre, while constituting a single path for the current. The detectors are operated at 2.5 Kelvin and a constant current below the critical current of the superconductor is applied to the device. The nanoscale cross section gives the photon detectors extremely high sensitivity upon absorption of just a single photon.

Once a single photon is absorbed in the meandering nanowire, superconductivity is locally broken. As a result, the current is directed towards the amplification electronics and creates a voltage pulse. After the photon is absorbed, superconductivity recovers in the nanowire within a short time and the SNSPD is ready to detect the next photon.

Photon detection with high time resolution:
In applications such as lifetime measurement of photoluminescence and photon correlation measurement, high time resolution of photon detectors is of great importance. The time resolution of single photon detectors is characterized by the full width at half maximum of the variation in the temporal delay from the absorption of a photon to the generation of an output electrical pulse, which is defined as the timing jitter.
The photon detectors of the Dutch SME have demonstrated the lowest timing jitter on the market. This is realized by cryogenic amplification. A cryogenic amplifier enclosed in a housing and mounted to the cryostat enables the SNSPDs to reach the highest signal-to-noise ratio and thus the optimal timing jitter.
A typical detector based on SNSPD with a cryogenic amplifier reaches less than 15 picoseconds timing jitter.
Important market segments are scientific and original equipment manufacturing (OEM) markets :
• Quantum information technology (inclusive quantum communication, quantum key distribution and quantum cryptography).
• Sensor (Light detection and ranging - LIDAR) and integrated circuit testing.
• Infrared time-resolved spectroscopy.
• (Bio-)medical imaging (single molecule fluorescence spectroscopy, optical coherence tomography, flow cytometry).

The Dutch SME is interested in commercial agreements with technical assistance with researchers and original equipment manufacturers needing single photon detection.

To come to the single photon detection the Dutch SME will support the researcher or manufacturer with co-development and production of dedicated photon detectors for their specific application.
It is desired that the partner is active in the application area and has to bring in their specific wishes and requirements.

Advantages & innovations

Cooperation plus value: 
The most important innovations and advantages of the high-end single photon detectors are: • The first superconducting nanowire single photon detector system with helium free cooling, dedicated electronics and driver software. • Self-aligned fibre coupling, which prevents loss in quantum efficiency due to misalignment during cool down. • High infrared efficiency. Due to an optical cavity the efficiency is enhanced in the near infrared. The central sensitivity wavelength can be engineered. • It is possible to develop your own detection system based on a separate detection chip. The advantages of helium free cooling are: • No need to refill the cooling system with helium. This results in lower operating costs. • The possibility for uninterrupted measurements over long periods of time (over 10.000 hours). • Easy to use (plug and play). • The system is operational within three hours after switching on the system. Important advantages over other photon detectors, for instance based on avalanche photodiodes, are: • Ten times better detection efficiencies in the infrared, especially at telecom wavelengths (1310 and 1550 nanometer). • Lower dark count rate. • High photon detection rates. • High time resolution (the time jitter can be less than 15 picoseconds). • Superior signal-to-noise ratio. • Short dead time (the detectors recover their sensitivity within 10 nanoseconds following a detection event). • No measurable after pulsing (The absence of after pulsing and the low dark count rates make gating unnecessary). Important features of the in-house developed driver and software are: • Fully computer-controlled operation. • Automated unlatching, so there is no need to adjust the system during long measurements. • Built in counters and temperature readout. • Effortless interface with all mainstream programming languages (for example LabView, Matlab, C).

Stage of development

Cooperation stage dev stage: 
Already on the market

Partner sought

Cooperation area: 
Type of partner: Research institutes, industry, research connected to industry or life sciences Partners: The desired partner(s) are Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) or researchers connected to industry or life sciences interested in single photon detection in their application area. (for example space communication, bio-imaging, quantum computing or laser ranging and detecting). Role of the partner: The partner should bring in their wishes, specifications and other requirements for their application that need single photon detection. The Dutch SME offers the dedicated single photon detector and knowledge to adapt the detector to the specific needs of the partner.

Type and size

Cooperation task: 
SME 11-50,University,R&D Institution,SME <10,>500 MNE,251-500,SME 51-250,>500