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A 100-pixel photon-number-resolving detector unveiling photon statistics

Abstract

Single-photon detectors are ubiquitous in quantum information science and quantum sensing. They are key enabling technologies for numerous scientific discoveries and fundamental tests of quantum optics. Photon-number-revolving detectors are the ultimate measurement tool of light; however, few detectors so far can provide high-fidelity photon number resolution at few-photon levels. Here we demonstrate an on-chip detector that can resolve up to 100 photons by spatiotemporally multiplexing an array of superconducting nanowires along a single optical waveguide. The unparalleled photon number resolution paired with the high-speed response exclusively allows us to unveil the quantum photon statistics of a true thermal light source at an unprecedented level, which is realized by direct measurement of the higher-order correlation function g(N) (with values of N up to 15), observation of photon-subtraction-induced photon number enhancement and quantum-limited state discrimination against a coherent light source. Our detector provides a viable route towards various important applications, including photonic quantum computation and quantum metrology.

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Data availability

The data are available via Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7240400.

Code availability

The Monte Carlo simulation code for Extended Data Fig. 2f is available via Zenodo at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.7240400.

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Acknowledgements

This work is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through ERC Center for Quantum Networks (CQN) grant (grant no EEC-1941583). We acknowledge early funding support for this project from DARPA DETECT program through an ARO grant (grant no. W911NF-16-2-0151) and NSF EFRI grant (grant no. EFMA-1640959). Y.Z. acknowledges the support from the Yale Quantum Institute fellowship. We would like to thank Y. Sun, S. Rinehart, K. Woods and M. Rooks for their assistance provided in the device fabrication. The fabrication of the devices was done at the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) Cleanroom and the Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering (YINQE).

Author information

Authors

Contributions

R.C., Y.Z. and H.X.T. conceived the idea and experiment. R.C. designed and fabricated the devices. R.C., Y.Z., S.W., M.S. and T.T. performed the measurements. R.C. and Y.Z. analysed the data. R.C., Y.Z. and H.X.T. wrote the manuscript with inputs from all authors. H.X.T. supervised the project.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hong X. Tang.

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Nature Photonics thanks Tim Bartley and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Timing jitter characterization.

a, Histogram measured for the arrival time difference between the laser synchronization signal and the detector pulses from 100 individual pixels. The full width at half maximum (FWHM) of each peak defines the timing jitter of the corresponding detector pixel. b-d, Zoom-in histogram data of the (b) 1st, (c) 50th, and (d) 100th detector pixel.

Extended Data Fig. 2 On-chip detection efficiency and dark count rate characterization.

a, Grating coupler pair design for the measurement of on-chip detection efficiency of the device. b, On-chip detection efficiency and dark count rates measured as a function of the bias current Ib. c, Detection efficiency measured for individual 100 detector pixels. d, Detected mean photon number as a function of the input mean photon number $${\bar{n}}_\textrm{in}$$. The measurement is performed with the bias current Ib = 18μA, and the measured results agree well with the Monte Carlo simulation. e-g, Detected photon number distribution versus input mean photon number $${\bar{n}}_\textrm{in}$$. e, Calculated results for an ideal detector assuming 100% detection efficiency and infinite photon number resolution, f, Monte Carlo simulation for a 100-pixel detector taking into account the saturation effect. g, Experimentally measured data.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Notes 1–3 and Figs. 1–3.

Supplementary Video 1

Real-time photon counting for a coherent state by an oscilloscope.

Supplementary Video 2

Real-time photon counting for a thermal state by an oscilloscope.

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Cheng, R., Zhou, Y., Wang, S. et al. A 100-pixel photon-number-resolving detector unveiling photon statistics. Nat. Photon. 17, 112–119 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41566-022-01119-3

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