Instantons, spacetime-localized quantum field tunneling events, are ubiquitous in correlated condensed matter and high-energy systems. However, their direct observation through collisions with conventional particles has not been considered possible. We show how recent advances in circuit quantum electrodynamics, specifically, the realization of galvanic coupling of a transmon qubit to a high-impedance transmission line, allows the observation of inelastic collisions of single microwave photons with instantons (phase slips). We develop a formalism for calculating the photon-instanton cross section, which should be useful in other quantum field theoretical contexts. In particular, we show that the inelastic scattering probability can significantly exceed the effect of conventional Josephson quartic anharmonicity and reach order-unity values.
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