Ultra high detectivity single carrier multiplication InAs avalanche photodiodes for IR optical detection

Lead Research Organisation: Heriot-Watt University
Department Name: Sch of Engineering and Physical Science


The ability to detect very low light level in the infrared (IR) wavelengths, down to a single photon has numerous applications ranging from enabling highly secured communication that relies on detection of a single photon, measurement of very weak fluorescence in biomolecule identification to high resolution 3 dimensional imaging based on laser ranging. Conventional semiconductor photodiodes do not have the sensitivity required for these photon-starved applications. Therefore it is necessary to use photodiodes designed with internal amplification or gain, called avalanche photodiodes (APDs), to convert the signal from a few photons to a large current that can be detected by an external electronics. In most semiconductors this amplification process also introduces excess noise. However Silicon APDs were able to produce high gain with low excess noise and therefore have been used in many applications to provide detection down to a single photon in the visible wavelengths. This is because, in Silicon the gain is provided predominantly by the electron multiplication process which reduces the excess noise. Unfortunately no commercial IR APD with performance similar to, or better than, Silicon is available despite various proposals to achieve Silicon-like APDs over the last 20 years. This exciting proposal will address this void by developing a new class of APDs based on InAs, a semiconductor with unique band structure features, to achieve high gain with negligible excess noise that is lower than that of Silicon. This proposal aims to provide IR APDs with extremely high performance, capable of detecting a single photon in the wavelength range of 1100 nm to 3000 nm. For instance they can provide low cost high performance large format imaging arrays for IR applications such as LIDAR, a technique that can provide excellent images and range measurements, non-invasive blood glucose sensing, atmospheric CO2 concentration monitoring as well as eye-safe free space optical communication. We therefore expect our APDs to generate new applications and provide highly competitive IR APDs. Based on the understanding of the InAs bandstructure, our APDs will be designed such that only electron will undergo impact ionisation to produce high avalanche gain with negligible excess noise. In addition to excellent gain, our devices can be operated at low voltage, making them compatible with off-the-shelf readout circuits. This could pave the way to a highly sensitive and affordable IR camera. To enhance the exploitation and the gain characteristics we will grow a novel InAsSb APDs on GaAs substrate which is significantly larger and cheaper than InAs substrate. This, if successful, will enable integration with commercial GaAs electronics. To propel our InAs APDs towards exploitation in the applications mentioned above we will;I) Optimise the crystal growth method to achieve high quality InAs materials with low level of impurities.II) Develop fabrication and surface passivation techniques to yield devices with low leakage current, leading to higher sensitivity.III) Pioneer techniques to implant ion species and to perform dopant diffusion to control the electric field in the InAs devices leading to high reliability.IV) Control growth conditions such as temperature and atomic pressure to achieve low crystal defect formation during the growth of InAsSb APDs on GaAs.This exciting project will be carried out by a highly skilled research team, comprising UK universities (Sheffield, Heriot-Watt and Surrey), American university (Virginia) and UK companies (Selex-Galileo and Thales Optronics) with years of experience in research and development of sensing applications. Thus, one of the outputs of the project is to provide a leading IR sensor technology to the research communities to facilitate new research and to the industry to maintain a lead in the IR sensor market.


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Description This work examined InAs optical detectors that used internal amplification - so-called InAs avalanche photodiodes. These avalanche photodiodes are unique in that the operate at wavelengths up to 3300nm, far beyond most commercially-available devices. They are also capable of operating using minimal device cooling. In this work we used the diodes to detect small numbers of photons, as well as in distance measurement by measurement of light transit time, all at long operational wavelength.
Exploitation Route The work is being supported via the EPSRC Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging, and yielding much improved results, building on the work of the original project.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport

Description EPSRC QuantIC QT Hub
Amount £64,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2017 
End 05/2018
Description MoD Seeing Through Clouds
Amount £412,232 (GBP)
Funding ID DSTLX1000108233 
Organisation Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (DSTL) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 06/2018