Single photon detection is a key resource for sensing at the quantum limit and the enabling technology for measurement based quantum computing. Photon detection at optical frequenciesrelies on irreversible photo-assisted ionization of various natural materials. However, microwave photons have energies 5 orders of magnitude lower than optical photons, and are therefore ineffective at triggering measurable phenomena at macroscopic scales. Here, we report the observation of a new type of interaction between a single two level system (qubit) and a microwave resonator. These two quantum systems do not interact coherently, instead, they share a common dissipative mechanism to a cold bath: the qubit irreversibly switches to its excited state if and only if a photon enters the resonator. We have used this highly correlated dissipation mechanism to detect itinerant photons impinging on the resonator. This scheme does not require any prior knowledge of the photon waveform nor its arrival time, and dominant decoherence mechanisms do not trigger spurious detection events (dark counts). We demonstrate a detection efficiency of 58% and a record low dark count rate of 1.4 per ms. This work establishes engineered non-linear dissipation as a key-enabling resource for a new class of low-noise non-linear microwave detectors.

Radio Frequency driven Josephson circuits provide a rich platform to engineer a variety of nonlinear Hamiltonians for superconducting quantum circuits. While Josephson junctions mediatestrong interactions between microwave photons, some particular types of interaction Hamiltonians can only be obtained through the application of microwave drives (pumps) at well-chosen frequencies. For various applications, it is important to increase the pump strength without introducing undesired couplings and interferences that limit the fidelity of the operations. In this Letter, we analyze these limitations through the theoretical study of the steady state behavior of the driven-dissipative systems. Our general analysis, based on the Floquet-Markov theory, indicates that the ubiquitous circuit consisting of a transmon coupled to a harmonic oscillator suffers from strong limitations in this regard. In accordance with a parallel experimental study, we find that above a fairly low critical pump power the transmon state escapes the Josephson potential confinement and is sent to a statistical mixture of free-particle like states. Next, we illustrate that by diluting the non-linearity of the Josephson junction through a parallel inductive shunt, the picture changes significantly and one achieves very large dynamic ranges in the pump power. This theoretical study provides the ground for drastic modifications in Josephson circuit designs to be used in parametric Hamiltonian engineering experiments.

Strong microwave drives, referred to as pumps, are widely applied to superconducting circuits incorporating Josephson junctions in order to induce couplings between electromagneticmodes. This offers a variety of applications, from quantum-limited amplification, to quantum state and manifold stabilization. These couplings scale with the pump power, therefore, seeking stronger couplings requires a detailed understanding of the behavior of such circuits in the presence of stronger pumps. In this work, we probe the dynamics of a transmon qubit in a 3D cavity, for various pump powers and frequencies. For all pump frequencies, we find a critical pump power above which the transmon is driven into highly excited states, beyond the first seven states which we individually resolve through cavity spectroscopy. This observation is compatible with our theory describing the escape of the transmon state out of its Josephson potential well, into states resembling those of a free particle which does not induce any non-linear couplings.