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A photodetector salvaged from a CD-ROM drive. The photodetector contains three photodiodes, visible in the photo (in center). CD-ROM Photodetector.jpg
A photodetector salvaged from a CD-ROM drive. The photodetector contains three photodiodes, visible in the photo (in center).

Photodetectors, also called photosensors, are sensors of light or other electromagnetic radiation. [1] A photo detector has a p–n junction that converts light photons into current. The absorbed photons make electron–hole pairs in the depletion region. Photodiodes and photo transistors are a few examples of photo detectors. Solar cells convert some of the light energy absorbed into electrical energy.



A commercial amplified photodetector for use in optics research USB-photodetector.png
A commercial amplified photodetector for use in optics research

Photodetectors may be classified by their mechanism for detection: [2] [ unreliable source? ] [3] [4]

Photodetectors may be used in different configurations. Single sensors may detect overall light levels. A 1-D array of photodetectors, as in a spectrophotometer or a Line scanner, may be used to measure the distribution of light along a line. A 2-D array of photodetectors may be used as an image sensor to form images from the pattern of light before it.

A photodetector or array is typically covered by an illumination window, sometimes having an anti-reflective coating.


There are a number of performance metrics, also called figures of merit, by which photodetectors are characterized and compared [2] [3]


Grouped by mechanism, photodetectors include the following devices:

Photoemission or photoelectric






Graphene/silicon photodetectors

A graphene/n-type silicon heterojunction has been demonstrated to exhibit strong rectifying behavior and high photoresponsivity. Graphene is coupled with silicon quantum dots (Si QDs) on top of bulk Si to form a hybrid photodetector. Si QDs cause an increase of the built-in potential of the graphene/Si Schottky junction while reducing the optical reflection of the photodetector. Both the electrical and optical contributions of Si QDs enable a superior performance of the photodetector. [16]

Frequency range

In 2014 a technique for extending semiconductor-based photodetector's frequency range to longer, lower-energy wavelengths. Adding a light source to the device effectively "primed" the detector so that in the presence of long wavelengths, it fired on wavelengths that otherwise lacked the energy to do so. [17]

See also

Related Research Articles

Charge-coupled device device for the movement of electrical charge

A charge-coupled device (CCD) is a device for the movement of electrical charge, usually from within the device to an area where the charge can be manipulated, such as conversion into a digital value. This is achieved by "shifting" the signals between stages within the device one at a time. CCDs move charge between capacitive bins in the device, with the shift allowing for the transfer of charge between bins.

Photodiode type of photodetector based on a p–n junction

A photodiode is a semiconductor device that converts light into an electrical current. The current is generated when photons are absorbed in the photodiode. Photodiodes may contain optical filters, built-in lenses, and may have large or small surface areas. Photodiodes usually have a slower response time as their surface area increases. The common, traditional solar cell used to generate electric solar power is a large area photodiode.

Photomultiplier tube

Photomultiplier tubes (photomultipliers or PMTs for short), members of the class of vacuum tubes, and more specifically vacuum phototubes, are extremely sensitive detectors of light in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. These detectors multiply the current produced by incident light by as much as 100 million times or 108 (i.e., 160 dB), in multiple dynode stages, enabling (for example) individual photons to be detected when the incident flux of light is low.

Scintillation counter

A scintillation counter is an instrument for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation by using the excitation effect of incident radiation on a scintillating material, and detecting the resultant light pulses.

In electronics, an avalanche diode is a diode that is designed to experience avalanche breakdown at a specified reverse bias voltage. The junction of an avalanche diode is designed to prevent current concentration and resulting hot spots, so that the diode is undamaged by the breakdown. The avalanche breakdown is due to minority carriers accelerated enough to create ionization in the crystal lattice, producing more carriers which in turn create more ionization. Because the avalanche breakdown is uniform across the whole junction, the breakdown voltage is nearly constant with changing current when compared to a non-avalanche diode.

Avalanche photodiode highly sensitive semiconductor electronic device

An avalanche photodiode (APD) is a highly sensitive semiconductor electronic device that exploits the photoelectric effect to convert light into electricity. From a functional standpoint, they can be regarded as the semiconductor analog of photomultipliers. By applying a high reverse bias voltage, APDs show an internal current gain effect due to impact ionization. However, some silicon APDs employ alternative doping and beveling techniques compared to traditional APDs that allow greater voltage to be applied before breakdown is reached and hence a greater operating gain. In general, the higher the reverse voltage, the higher the gain. Among the various expressions for the APD multiplication factor (M), an instructive expression is given by the formula

A photocathode is a negatively charged electrode in a light detection device such as a photomultiplier or phototube that is coated with a photosensitive compound. When this is struck by a quantum of light (photon), the absorbed energy causes electron emission due to the photoelectric effect.

Quantum dot nano-scale electronic device subject to quantum effects

Quantum dots (QDs) are tiny semiconductor particles a few nanometres in size, having optical and electronic properties that differ from larger particles due to quantum mechanics. They are a central topic in nanotechnology. When the quantum dots are illuminated by UV light, an electron in the quantum dot can be excited to a state of higher energy. In the case of a semiconducting quantum dot, this process corresponds to the transition of an electron from the valence band to the conductance band. The excited electron can drop back into the valence band releasing its energy by the emission of light. This light emission (photoluminescence) is illustrated in the figure on the right. The color of that light depends on the energy difference between the conductance band and the valence band.

Single-photon avalanche diode solid-state photodetector

A single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) is a solid-state photodetector in which a photon-generated carrier can trigger a short-duration but relatively large avalanche current. This avalanche is created through a mechanism called impact ionization, whereby carriers are accelerated to high kinetic energies through a large potential gradient (voltage). If the kinetic energy of a carrier is sufficient further carriers are liberated from the atomic lattice. The number of carriers thus increases exponentially from, in some cases, as few as a single carrier. This mechanism was observed and modeled by John Townsend for trace-gas vacuum tubes, becoming known as a Townsend discharge, and later being attributed to solid-state breakdown by K. McAfee. This device is able to detect low-intensity ionizing radiation, including: gamma, X-ray, beta, and alpha-particle radiation along with electromagnetic signals in the UV, Visible and IR. SPADs are also able to distinguish the arrival times of events (photons) with a timing jitter of a few tens of picoseconds.

Quantum efficiency Property of photosensitive devices

The term quantum efficiency (QE) may apply to incident photon to converted electron (IPCE) ratio, of a photosensitive device or it may refer to the TMR effect of a Magnetic Tunnel Junction.


A phototube or photoelectric cell is a type of gas-filled or vacuum tube that is sensitive to light. Such a tube is more correctly called a 'photoemissive cell' to distinguish it from photovoltaic or photoconductive cells. Phototubes were previously more widely used but are now replaced in many applications by solid state photodetectors. The photomultiplier tube is one of the most sensitive light detectors, and is still widely used in physics research.

Cryogenic particle detectors operate at very low temperature, typically only a few degrees above absolute zero. These sensors interact with an energetic elementary particle and deliver a signal that can be related to the type of particle and the nature of the interaction. While many types of particle detectors might be operated with improved performance at cryogenic temperatures, this term generally refers to types that take advantage of special effects or properties occurring only at low temperature.

Active-pixel sensor image sensor consisting of an integrated circuit

An active-pixel sensor (APS) is an image sensor where each pixel sensor unit cell has a photodetector and one or more active transistors. In a metal–oxide–semiconductor (MOS) active-pixel sensor, MOS field-effect transistors (MOSFETs) are used as amplifiers. There are different types of APS, including the early NMOS APS and the much more common complementary MOS (CMOS) APS, also known as the CMOS sensor, which is widely used in digital camera technologies such as cell phone cameras, web cameras, most modern digital pocket cameras, most digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLRs), and mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs). CMOS sensors emerged as an alternative to charge-coupled device (CCD) image sensors and eventually outsold them by the mid-2000s.

Silicon photonics photonic systems which use silicon as an optical medium

Silicon photonics is the study and application of photonic systems which use silicon as an optical medium. The silicon is usually patterned with sub-micrometre precision, into microphotonic components. These operate in the infrared, most commonly at the 1.55 micrometre wavelength used by most fiber optic telecommunication systems. The silicon typically lies on top of a layer of silica in what is known as silicon on insulator (SOI).

Quantum well infrared photodetector

A Quantum Well Infrared Photodetector (QWIP) is an infrared photodetector, which uses electronic intersubband transitions in quantum wells to absorb photons. In order to be used for infrared detection, the parameters of the quantum wells in the quantum well infrared photodetector are adjusted so that the energy difference between its first and second quantized states match the incoming infrared photon energy. QWIPs are typically made of gallium arsenide, a material commonly found in smartphones and high-speed communications equipment. Depending on the material and the design of the quantum wells, the energy levels of the QWIP can be tailored to absorb radiation in the infrared region from 3 to 20 µm.

Flat-panel detector class of solid-state x-ray digital radiography devices

Flat-panel detectors are a class of solid-state x-ray digital radiography devices similar in principle to the image sensors used in digital photography and video. They are used in both projectional radiography and as an alternative to x-ray image intensifiers (IIs) in fluoroscopy equipment.

X-ray detector instrument that can detect x-rays

X-ray detectors are devices used to measure the flux, spatial distribution, spectrum, and/or other properties of X-rays.

Quantum dots (QDs) are semiconductor nanoparticles with a size less than 10 nm. They exhibited size-dependent properties especially in the optical absorption and the photoluminescence (PL). Typically, the fluorescence emission peak of the QDs can be tuned by changing their diameters. So far, QDs were consisted of different group elements such as CdTe, CdSe, CdS in the II-VI category, InP or InAs in the III-V category, CuInS2 or AgInS2 in the I–III–VI2 category, and PbSe/PbS in the IV-VI category. These QDs are promising candidates as fluorescent labels in various biological applications such as bioimaging, biosensing and drug delivery.


A solaristor is a compact two terminal self-powered phototransistor. The two-in-one transistor plus solar cell achieves the high-low current modulation by a memresistive effect in the flow of photogenerated carriers. The term was coined by Dr Amador Perez-Tomas working in collaboration with other ICN2 researchers in 2018 when they demonstrated the concept in a ferroelectric-oxide/organic bulk heterojunction solar cell.


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