Visible Light Photon Counter

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Visible Light Photon Counter (often abbreviated to VLPC) refers to a particular type of solid-state high quantum-efficiency multi-photon counting photodetector able to detect single photons in the visible range of the optical spectrum. The ability to count the exact number of photons detected is extremely important for quantum key distribution.

Rockwell International's Science Center had previously announced the "Solid-State Photomultiplier" (SSPM), a wide-band (0.4-28 µm) detector.[1] In the late 1980s a collaboration - initially consisting of Rockwell and UCLA - began developing scintillating-fiber particle trackers for use on the Superconducting Super Collider,[2][3] based on an dedicated variant of the SSPM that came to be known as the Visible Light Photon Counter.[4]

The operating principles are similar to APDs but based on impurity band conduction[5] - the devices are made from arsenic-doped silicon and have an impurity band 50 meV below the conduction band,[6] resulting in a gain of 40 000 to 80 000[5][7] at a bias voltage of a few volts (e.g. 7 V[5]).[note 1] The narrow bandgap reduces gain dispersion resulting in a uniform response to each photon, and hence the output pulse height is proportional to the number of incident photons. VLPCs must operate at cryogenic temperatures (6-10 K).[5] They have a quantum efficiency of 85% at 565 nm[4] and a time resolution of several nanoseconds.[5]

VLPCs have been used extensively in the central tracking detector of the D0 experiment,[8][9] and for muon beam-cooling studies for a muon collider (MICE).[7] They have also been evaluated for quantum information science.[6]


  1. ^ In contrast, SPADs require a high reverse bias voltage and consequent quenching of the output current.


  1. ^ M.D. Petroff, M.G. Stapelbroek and W.A. Kleinhans: "Detection of Individual 0.4–28 μm Wavelength Photons via Impurity‐Impact Ionization in a Solid‐State Photomultiplier" Applied Physics Letters 51(6) pp.406-408 doi:10.1063/1.98404 (1987)
  2. ^ M.D. Petroff and M. Atac: "High Energy Particle Tracking Using Scintillating Fibers and Solid State Photomultipliers" IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 36(1) pp.163-164. ISSN 0018-9499 doi:10.1109/23.34425 (1989)
  3. ^ M. Atac: "Scintillating Fiber Tracking at High Luminosities using Visible Light Photon Counter Readout" pp.149-160 in Imaging Detectors In High Energy, Astroparticle And Medical Physics - Proceedings Of The UCLA International Conference, J. Park (ed.), World Scientific Publishing ISBN 978-981-4530-41-5 doi:10.1142/3313 (1996)
  4. ^ a b B. Abbot et al.: "Studies of Visible Light Photon Counters with Fast Preamplifiers" Conference Record of the 1991 IEEE Nuclear Science Symposium and Medical Imaging Conference, Santa Fe, NM, USA, pp.369-373 ISSN 1082-3654 doi:10.1109/NSSMIC.1991.258956 (1991)
  5. ^ a b c d e M.D. Petroff and M.G. Stapelbroek: "Photon-Counting Solid-State Photomultiplier" IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 36(1) pp.158-162. ISSN 0018-9499. doi:10.1109/23.34424 (1989)
  6. ^ a b K. McKay "Development of the Visible Light Photon Counter for Applications in Quantum Information Science" Dissertation, Duke University, (2011)
  7. ^ a b M. Ellis et al., “The Design, Construction and Performance of the MICE Scintillating Fibre Trackers,” Nuclear Instruments and Methods A659 pp.136–153 doi:10.1016/j.nima.2011.04.041 (2011)
  8. ^ D. Adams et al.: "Performance of a Large Scale Scintillating Fiber Tracker Using VLPC Readout" IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science 42(4) pp.401-406 ISSN 0018-9499 doi:10.1109/23.467812 (1995)
  9. ^ D0 Collaboration: “The Upgraded D0 Detector” Nuclear Instruments and Methods A565 pp.463–537 doi:10.1016/j.nima.2006.05.248 (2006)