Device Physics to Receiving Photons from Lunar Orbit: An Evolution of Superconducting Nanowire Single Photon Detectors

Eric Dauler
Associate Technology Officer
MIT Lincoln
Date and Time: 
November 18, 2013 - 4:00pm - 5:00pm
Marston 132
Joseph Bardin
Contact the host:

High-detection-efficiency superconducting nanowire single photon detectors (SNSPDs) are uniquely suited to many applications in the short-wave infrared.  Several advances, including multi-element geometries, multi-layer optical structures and DC-coupled readouts, now permit SNSPDs to operate at photon detection rates exceeding 100 MCounts/s with high-detection efficiency.  Recently, detectors with active areas >14 µm in diameter have been demonstrated with 76% system-detection efficiency at 1550 nm, enabling multi-mode optical coupling for free-space applications.  One such application that will be discussed is the Lunar Laser Communications Demonstration, which made use of SNSPDs to demonstrate the first high-rate optical communication link from a lunar-orbiting satellite.  Additionally, recent measurements of short-wave infrared single-photon emission from colloidal nanocrystals will be presented.  These measurements have not been possible to make with competing detector technologies and were enabled by the SNSPDs high efficiency, low noise and multi-element structure.

This work was sponsored by the United States Air Force under Air Force Contract #FA8721-05-C-0002. Opinions, interpretations, recommendations and conclusions are those of the authors and are not necessarily endorsed by the United States Government.


Dr. Eric Dauler, Associate Technology Officer, has worked at MIT Lincoln Laboratory since 2001.  Eric began his career at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, using entangled photons to improve metrology techniques for measuring absolute radiance and polarization mode dispersion. As a research assistant at Boston University’s Quantum Imaging Laboratory, he developed correlation interferometry techniques using pairs of entangled, circularly polarized photons.  At MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Eric has developed, tested, and applied superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors and Geiger-mode avalanche photodiodes for high-sensitivity optical communication and quantum optics.  In particular, superconducting detectors that he helped design, fabricate and test have recently been used to demonstrate the first high-rate, laser communication link between a satellite in lunar orbit and a receiver on earth.  He received his S.B. (2003), M.Eng. (2003) and Ph.D. (2009) degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a coauthor on over 50 publications.  He was a co-recipient of the MIT Lincoln Laboratory Best Invention Award in 2009 and an R&D 100 Award in 2010.  Also, in 2010, Eric was named R&D Magazine’s Young Innovator of the Year.