New Camera Can Detect a Single Photon With 400x Better Resolution

New Camera Can Detect a Single Photon With 400x Better Resolution

A team of scientists has created a new camera that is sensitive enough to find a single photon. Although it serves a common purpose, this large photon camera stands out by having 400 times the resolution of earlier photon cameras.

As explained by Phys, the camera is designed to capture single photons — tiny particle composed of electromagnetic waves that are the basic units that make up light (but have no mass and no charge). For instance, photons are the building blocks of both X-rays and microwaves.

It took 20 years to create the first detection and collection method for individual photons.

“These detectors operate at very low temperatures and generate a minimum of excess noise, making them ideal for testing the non-local nature of reality, investigating dark matter, mapping the early universe, and performing quantum computation and communication,” the researchers explain in their research paper.

A photon camera that could capture images with a lot of resolution hasn’t yet been created, though.

“This is especially true for one of the most promising detector technologies, the superconducting nanowire single-photon detector (SNSPD),” the researcheres continue. “These detectors have been shown to have system detection efficiencies of 98.0%, timing jitter of less than 3 ps, sensitivity from the ultraviolet to the mid-infrared (10um), and dark count rates below 6.2e-6 counts per second (cps). However, despite more than two decades of development, they have never been able to reach an array size greater than a kilopixel.

A megapixel is 1,000 times larger than a kilopixel for comparison’s sake. Prior to this, only SNSPD cameras with a resolution of 20,000 pixels or higher had been used.

However, that has now been altered by the researchers thanks to their 400,000 pixel per second single-photon camera made of superconducting nanowire. The pixel array of this camera is 400 times bigger than that of the previous largest photon camera, making it the biggest of its kind ever created.

Phys explains that this camera can work at various light frequencies from the visible to ultraviolet and infrared and can capture at super high-speed frame rates — as fast as a matter of picoseconds.

Since it can be difficult to photograph far-off objects, especially with expolanets, this technology is anticipated to be particularly helpful in space exploration.

“You try to image planets that are millions of times fainter than their parent stars when you use exoplanet direct imaging. It’s the equivalent of trying to see a firefly next to a fully lit football stadium from a plane,” Sarah Steiger, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara who collaborates with renowned optical sensor specialist Ben Mazin, explains.

It also has implications for quantum computing, communications, and even the medical industry, including for brain scanning.

“From a scientific perspective, this is definitely opening a new avenue in optical brain imaging,” At the Harvard Medical School, Stefan Carp is an associate professor of radiology.

“While less expensive methods exist for optically mapping cortical brain flow, each one suffers from signal quality issues that frequently call for sophisticated signal processing. With nanowires, there is no performance trade-off.”

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