In the last years, there has been a large development of low-light applications, and many of them are based on photon counting using single-photon detectors (SPDs). These are very sensitive detectors typically with an internal gain. The first candidate SPD was the photomultiplier tube (PMT), reaching a very high gain (~106), but there have been a large development of many other solutions, like solid-state solutions. Among them, single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) have been used in spectroscopy, florescence imaging, etc., particularly for their good detection efficiency and time resolution (tens of picoseconds). SPADs have been developed in silicon and III–V materials, for the NIR wavelength range. SPADs can be used as single high-performance pixels, or in arrays. SPAD arrays have imaging capabilities, with high sensitivity. Another kind of array is the silicon photomultiplier (SiPM), where all the pixels are connected to a common anode and a common cathode. SiPMs are used in nuclear medicine, physics experiments, quantum-physics experiments, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), etc., due to their high detection efficiency combined with large sensitive areas, and high dynamic range. SiPMs with many small cells present several advantages and nowadays the SPAD pitch can be reduced down to 5 μm.
Part of the book: Photon Counting