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Quantum Measurements with Superconducting Nanowire Single Photon Detectors


Mueller, Andrew Sterling (2024) Quantum Measurements with Superconducting Nanowire Single Photon Detectors. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/tneb-9z27.


Superconducting Nanowire Single-Photon Detectors (SNSPDs) are high-performance photon counting detectors, typically operated just a few degrees above absolute zero. Comprising a current-biased nanowire transitioning between superconducting and resistive states upon photon absorption, SNSPDs generate voltage pulses for precise photon arrival time measurement. Initially demonstrated in the 1990s, SNSPDs are now mature devices widely employed in various fields, including space communication, biological imaging, and quantum technology. This thesis explores techniques to enhance usable count rate, dark count rate, timing resolution, and photon number resolution for both emerging and established SNSPD designs. We introduce a free space optical filtering method to minimize SNSPD dark count rates which is competitive with the state-of-the-art for fiber coupled SNSPDs, and especially impactful for space communication applications. We go on to study dynamics that limit SNSPD maximum count rates, presenting a calibration and in-situ correction procedure to significantly reduce jitter at high rates without additional hardware or offline processing. With an eye towards space communication applications beyond NASA's Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC) project, we present a high-rate Pulse Position Modulation communication demo with SNSPDs. In the process we uncover a rich photon-number dependent response in these detectors and devise methods to properly leverage and manage it. Finally, we employ low-jitter SNSPDs in a high-rate entanglement distribution system, achieving high entanglement visibilities, and distillable entanglement rates.  As this work focuses on optimizing SNSPD usage and analysis rather than device physics or fabrication, it is broadly applicable to any users of this single photon detection technology.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Superconducting Detectors, SNSPDs, Quantum Optics, Quantum Communication, Single Photon Detection
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Engineering and Applied Science
Major Option:Applied Physics
Thesis Availability:Restricted to Caltech community only
Research Advisor(s):
  • Spiropulu, Maria (advisor)
  • Shaw, Matthew D. (advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Hutzler, Nicholas R. (chair)
  • Faraon, Andrei
  • Painter, Oskar J.
  • Shaw, Matthew D.
  • Spiropulu, Maria
Defense Date:11 December 2023
Non-Caltech Author Email:andrewstermueller (AT)
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:02092024-210936211
Persistent URL:
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription adapted for Chapter 2 adapted for Chapter 3 adapted for Chapter 5's PhD thesis
Mueller, Andrew Sterling0000-0002-6598-9732
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:16290
Deposited By: Andrew Mueller
Deposited On:16 May 2024 17:20
Last Modified:16 May 2024 17:20

Thesis Files

[img] PDF (Partial thesis - ch.4 redacted) - Final Version
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[img] PDF (Full thesis) - Final Version
Restricted to Caltech community only until 16 November 2024.
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