Viewing posts from January, 2021
In the last year or two we've been doing a lot of work aimed at replacing photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) in instruments, using avalanche photodiodes (APDs) and silicon photomultipliers (SiPMs). These devices are arrays of single-photon detectors, so they're also known as multi-pixel photon counters (MPPCs). Our main application areas include biomedical instruments such as flow cytometers and microplate readers, which have to measure low light levels very precisely but don't need the ultralow dark current of PMTs. (Follow-on articles will talk about our SiPM work in airborne lidar and SEM cathodoluminescence, as well as on improving the performance of actual PMTs.)
PMTs have been around since the 1930s, and remain the undisputed champs for the very lowest light levels. We love PMTs, but we have to admit that they're delicate and not that easy to use—they tend to be bulky, they need high voltage, and they need regular replacement. Most of all, PMTs are very expensive.
In Part 1, we discussed ways to get better measurements by improving the signal to noise ratio (SNR), and saw that although it was often a win to measure more slowly and use lowpass filters, going too far actually makes things worse, because of the way noise concentrates at low frequency. Here we introduce a more sophisticated approach that generally works better: the lock-in amplifier.
In building an ultrasensitive instrument, we're always fighting to improve our signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). The SNR is the ratio of signal power to noise power in the measurement bandwidth, and is limited by noise in the instrument itself and the noise of any background signals, such as the shot noise of the background light or the slight hiss of a microphone.