Article | Published:

Single-photon imager based on a superconducting nanowire delay line

Nature Photonics volume 11, pages 247251 (2017) | Download Citation

  • A Corrigendum to this article was published on 01 September 2017

This article has been updated


Detecting spatial and temporal information of individual photons is critical to applications in spectroscopy, communication, biological imaging, astronomical observation and quantum-information processing. Here we demonstrate a scalable single-photon imager using a single continuous superconducting nanowire that is not only a single-photon detector but also functions as an efficient microwave delay line. In this context, photon-detection pulses are guided in the nanowire and enable the readout of the position and time of photon-absorption events from the arrival times of the detection pulses at the nanowire's two ends. Experimentally, we slowed down the velocity of pulse propagation to 2% of the speed of light in free space. In a 19.7 mm long nanowire that meandered across an area of 286 × 193 μm2, we were able to resolve 590 effective pixels with a temporal resolution of 50 ps (full width at half maximum). The nanowire imager presents a scalable approach for high-resolution photon imaging in space and time.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Change history

  • 14 August 2017

    In the version of this Article originally published, in Fig. 3c, in the y axis label, the units '(c.p.s.)' should not have been included; the label should have read "Dark counts". This has now been corrected in the online versions of the Article.


  1. 1.

    , & Secure quantum key distribution using continuous variables of single photons. Phys. Rev. Lett. 100, 1–4 (2008).

  2. 2.

    , , & Quantum key distribution with higher-order alphabets using spatially encoded qudits. Phys. Rev. Lett. 96, 1–4 (2006).

  3. 3.

    et al. High-dimensional quantum cryptography with twisted light. New J. Phys. 17, 033033 (2015).

  4. 4.

    et al. Nanosecond-scale timing jitter for single photon detection in transition edge sensors. Appl. Phys. Lett. 102, 231117 (2013).

  5. 5.

    et al. A titanium-nitride near-infrared kinetic inductance photon-counting detector and its anomalous electrodynamics. Appl. Phys. Lett. 101, 142602 (2012).

  6. 6.

    Single-photon detectors for optical quantum information applications. Nat. Photon. 3, 696–705 (2009).

  7. 7.

    et al. Jitter analysis of a superconducting nanowire single photon detector. AIP Adv. 3, 72135 (2013).

  8. 8.

    , , & Readout of superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors at high count rates. J. Appl. Phys. 113, 144511 (2013).

  9. 9.

    et al. Detecting single infrared photons with 93% system efficiency. Nat. Photon. 7, 210–214 (2013).

  10. 10.

    et al. Superconducting nanowire single photon detector with on-chip bandpass filter. Opt. Express 22, 16267–16272 (2014).

  11. 11.

    et al. Efficient single photon detection from 500 nanometer to 5 micron wavelength. Nano Lett. 12, 4799–4804 (2012).

  12. 12.

    , , & High-speed and high-efficiency superconducting nanowire single photon detector array. Opt. Express 21, 1440–1447 (2013).

  13. 13.

    et al. Superconducting-nanowire single-photon-detector linear array. Appl. Phys. Lett. 103, 142602 (2013).

  14. 14.

    , , & A 64-pixel NbTiN superconducting nanowire single-photon detector array for spatially resolved photon detection. Opt. Express 22, 7811–7820 (2014).

  15. 15.

    et al. A near-infrared 64-pixel superconducting nanowire single photon detector array with integrated multiplexed readout. Appl. Phys. Lett. 106, 192601 (2015).

  16. 16.

    et al. Time-tagged multiplexing of serially biased superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors. IEEE Trans. Appl. Supercond. 23, 2501205 (2013).

  17. 17.

    et al. Orthogonal sequencing multiplexer for superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors with RSFQ electronics readout circuit. Opt. Express 20, 28683–28697 (2012).

  18. 18.

    , , , & Operation of superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors embedded in lumped-element resonant circuits. IEEE Trans. Appl. Supercond. 26, 2200205 (2016).

  19. 19.

    et al. Picosecond superconducting single-photon optical detector. Appl. Phys. Lett. 79, 705–707 (2001).

  20. 20.

    et al. Modeling the electrical and thermal response of superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors. IEEE Trans. Appl. Supercond. 17, 581–585 (2007).

  21. 21.

    , , , & Microwave dynamics of high aspect ratio superconducting nanowires studied using self-resonance. J. Appl. Phys. 119, 234302 (2016).

  22. 22.

    , , , & Superconducting nanowire detector jitter limited by detector geometry. Appl. Phys. Lett. 109, 152601 (2016).

  23. 23.

    , & Kinetic inductance microstrip delay lines. IEEE Trans. Magn. 23, 903–906 (1987).

  24. 24.

    A transmission line taper of improved design. Proc. IRE 44, 31–35 (1956).

  25. 25.

    , , & Low-loss terahertz superconducting plasmonics. New J. Phys. 14, 115006 (2012).

  26. 26.

    Theoretical investigations on THz and optical superconductive surface plasmon interface. IEEE Trans. Appl. Supercond. 19, 907–910 (2009).

  27. 27.

    et al. A broad-application microchannel-plate detector system for advanced particle or photon detection tasks: large area imaging, precise multi-hit timing information and high detection rate. Nucl. Instrum. Methods Phys. Res. A 477, 244–249 (2002).

  28. 28.

    et al. Single-pixel imaging via compressive sampling. IEEE Signal Process. Mag. 25, 83–91 (2008).

  29. 29.

    et al. Progress toward a high-resolution single-photon camera based on superconducting single photon detector arrays and compressive sensing. In Conf. Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO) STh30 (Optical Society of America, 2015).

  30. 30.

    et al. Counting rate enhancements in superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors with improved readout circuits. Opt. Lett. 39, 1869–1872 (2014).

  31. 31.

    et al. Superconducting single photon detectors with minimized polarization dependence. Appl. Phys. Lett. 93, 161102 (2008).

  32. 32.

    et al. Design of efficient superconducting nanowire single photon detectors with high polarization sensitivity for polarimetric imaging. J. Opt. Soc. Am. B 33, 2256–2264 (2016).

  33. 33.

    , , , & Inhomogeneous critical current in nanowire superconducting single-photon detectors. Appl. Phys. Lett. 105, 222602 (2014).

  34. 34.

    et al. Tunable superconducting nanoinductors. Nanotechnology 21, 445202 (2010).

  35. 35.

    et al. Fabrication process yielding saturated nanowire single-photon detectors with 24-ps jitter. IEEE J. Sel. Top. Quantum Electron. 21, 1–7 (2015).

  36. 36.

    et al. Fabrication development for nanowire GHz-counting-rate single-photon detectors. IEEE Trans. Appl. Supercond. 15, 626–630 (2005).

Download references


We thank R. Hobbs, C.-S. Kim and M. Mondol for their technical support in nanofabrication, and P. Mauskopf, J.K.W. Yang, Z. Zhang and E. Toomey for scientific discussion. This research was supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) grants under contract no. ECCS-1509486 (Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)) and no. ECCS-1509253 (University of North Florida) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant under contract no. FA9550-14-1-0052. D.Z. is supported by a National Science Scholarship from A*STAR, Singapore. N.C. thanks the Roberto Rocca project for financial support during his visit to MIT. A.E.D. was supported by a National Aeronautics and Space Administration Space Technology Research Fellowship (award no. NNX14AL48H). A.N.M. was supported by a fellowship from the National Science Foundation iQuISE program (award no. 0801525).

Author information


  1. Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

    • Qing-Yuan Zhao
    • , Di Zhu
    • , Niccolò Calandri
    • , Andrew E. Dane
    • , Adam N. McCaughan
    • , Francesco Bellei
    • , Hao-Zhu Wang
    •  & Karl K. Berggren
  2. Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering, Politecnico di Milano, Milano 22020, Italy

    • Niccolò Calandri
  3. Department of Physics, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida 32224, USA

    • Daniel F. Santavicca


  1. Search for Qing-Yuan Zhao in:

  2. Search for Di Zhu in:

  3. Search for Niccolò Calandri in:

  4. Search for Andrew E. Dane in:

  5. Search for Adam N. McCaughan in:

  6. Search for Francesco Bellei in:

  7. Search for Hao-Zhu Wang in:

  8. Search for Daniel F. Santavicca in:

  9. Search for Karl K. Berggren in:


Q.-Y.Z. and K.K.B. came up with the initial idea. Q.-Y.Z. designed and fabricated the nanowire imager. Q.-Y.Z. and D.Z. took the optical measurements. Q.-Y.Z., N.C., F.B. and H.-Z.W. characterized initial devices. A.E.D. developed the superconducting films. Q.-Y.Z., A.N.M. and D.F.S. did the microwave simulations. Q.-Y.Z. analysed the data and programmed the imaging script. K.K.B. supervised the project. Q.-Y.Z. and K.K.B. wrote the paper with input from all the other authors.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Karl K. Berggren.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary information


  1. 1.

    Supplementary information

    Supplementary Movie 1

About this article

Publication history





Further reading