Tutorial: The Measurement of Single-Photon Level Optical Signals using Linear-Mode or Run-Away Avalanche Gain


A significant thrust in optical metrology is the study of processes that liberate extremely low-amplitude optical signals. Traditionally, photomultiplier tubes have been used, although, as this tutorial will discuss, many applications are being increasingly instrumented with solid-state devices utilizing the avalanche gain multiplication process. Such methods are not new (indeed the history is particularly illuminating), however, the wealth of applications presents the questions of a) where did such devices come from, b) what are the overall performance metrics and bottlenecks for metrology, c) what future innovations can we expect and d) how can we access such technologies with the customisation that may be required for our particular application. We will discuss many modern applications for such single-photon detectors including: photon counting and timing in physical experimentation (with very low noise requirements), the measurement of biological samples using fluorescence lifetimes, their use to decrease costs within positron-emission tomography (PET) systems, the robust measurement of photon arrivals for 3D Imaging and LIDAR, and of course advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). We will also consider the use of avalanche gain for optical communications where accurate metrology directly impacts the bit error rate performance. This tutorial aims to give delegates a representative overview of a growing and increasingly commercializedfield and will discuss the future and use of these technologies within the metrology community.


Speaker Bio


Dr. Edward Fisher (M’08)received the M.Eng. degree in electronic and electrical engineering from The University of Edinburgh, working with ST Microelectronics on automatic exposure algorithms for image sensors. After completing his Ph.D. in single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) arrays in CMOS for optical communications (University of Edinburgh), he began work on high-speed, parallel data acquisition systems as a member of the Agile Tomography Group (ATG) within the Institute of Digital Communications. This work aims to provide chemical species tomography diagnostics for aero-engines in collaboration with Rolls-Royce, Royal Dutch Shell, and academia within the FLITES project. He was awarded a fellowship with The Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) in 2016, to promote best practices in code development. His research interests include mixed-signal instrumentation, signal processing, embedded systems and communications. He periodically revisits SPAD research with a 2017 book chapter on array readout topologies for optical communications and a book chapter (in press) on the early historical development of avalanche multiplication and SPADs. This covers the period of 1900 to 1969, however, he is currently conducting the historical analysis of the 1970s and 80s for future publication. He is a member of the IEEE, IET and IOP, and a reviewer for IEEE TCAS:1.


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