Superconducting nanowire single photon detector for coherent detection of weak signals
Traditional photon detectors are operated in the direct detection mode, counting incident photons with a known quantum efficiency. Here, we have investigated a superconducting nanowire single photon detector (SNSPD) operated as a photon counting mixer at telecommunication wavelength around 1.5 μm. This regime of operation combines excellent sensitivity of a photon counting detector with excellent spectral resolution given by the heterodyne technique. Advantageously, we have found that low local oscillator (LO) power of the order of hundreds of femtowatts to a few picowatts is sufficient for clear observation of the incident test signal with the sensitivity approaching the quantum limit. With further optimization, the required LO power could be significantly reduced, which is promising for many practical applications, such as the development of receiver matrices or recording ultralow signals at a level of less-than-one-photon per second. In addition to a traditional NbN-based SNSPD operated with normal incidence coupling, we also use detectors with a travelling wave geometry, where a NbN nanowire is placed on the top of a Si3N4 nanophotonic waveguide. This approach is fully scalable and a large number of devices could be integrated on a single chip.