Counting Photons…How Low Can You Go?


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“For decades we saw few significant advances in photon detection theory, but recent progress in the field of quantum information science has allowed us to model very large and complicated systems,” Kumar said. Advances in nano-science have also been critical, he added. “Nano-fabrication techniques have come a long way. Now not only can we model, but we can fabricate devices to test those models.”

The Detect program aims to create a fully quantum model of photon detection and then carry out proof-of-principle experiments to validate those models. It will also study the differences between various photon detection technologies. Current photon detectors, such as semiconductor detectors, superconductor detectors, and biological detectors have various strengths and weaknesses as measured against eight technical metrics, including what physicists refer to as timing jitter; dark count; maximum rate; bandwidth; efficiency; photon-number resolution; operating temperature; and array size. There is currently no single detector that simultaneously excels at all eight characteristics. The fully quantum model developed and tested in Detect will help determine the potential for creating such a device.

“We want to know whether the basic physics of photon detection allows us, at least theoretically, to have all of the attributes we want simultaneously, or whether there are inherent tradeoffs,” Kumar said. “And if tradeoffs are necessary, what combination of these attributes can I maximize at the same time?”

The Detect program will require expertise in a number of crosscutting disciplines, including quantum measurement theory and experimentation, quantum information science and technology, semiconductor physics, superconductor physics, biological physics and quantum biology, quantum-limited amplification, device and system design and engineering. Further information will be provided in a Broad Agency Announcement to be released on FedBizOpps in advance of the January 25 Proposers Day.

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