Superconducting devices, based on the Cooper pairing of electrons, play an important role in existing and emergent technologies, ranging from radiation detectors to quantum computers. Their performance is limited by spurious quasiparticle excitations formed from broken Cooper pairs. Efforts to achieve ultra-low quasiparticle densities have reached time-averaged numbers of excitations on the order of one in state-of-the-art devices. However, the dynamics of the quasiparticle population as well as the timescales for adding and removing individual excitations remain largely unexplored. Here, we experimentally demonstrate a superconductor completely free of quasiparticles for periods lasting up to seconds. We monitor the quasiparticle number on a mesoscopic superconductor in real time by measuring the charge tunnelling to a normal metal contact. Quiet, excitation-free periods are interrupted by random-in-time Cooper pair breaking events, followed by a burst of charge tunnelling within a millisecond. Our results demonstrate the possibility of operating devices without quasiparticles with potentially improved performance. In addition, our experiment probes the origins of nonequilibrium quasiparticles in our device. The decay of the Cooper pair breaking rate over several weeks following the initial cooldown rules out processes arising from cosmic or long-lived radioactive sources.
- superconducting properties and materials
- superconducting devices