Letter | Published:

Room-temperature nine-µm-wavelength photodetectors and GHz-frequency heterodyne receivers

Nature volume 556, pages 8588 (05 April 2018) | Download Citation


Room-temperature operation is essential for any optoelectronics technology that aims to provide low-cost, compact systems for widespread applications. A recent technological advance in this direction is bolometric detection for thermal imaging1, which has achieved relatively high sensitivity and video rates (about 60 hertz) at room temperature. However, owing to thermally induced dark current, room-temperature operation is still a great challenge for semiconductor photodetectors targeting the wavelength band between 8 and 12 micrometres2, and all relevant applications, such as imaging, environmental remote sensing and laser-based free-space communication3,4,5, have been realized at low temperatures. For these devices, high sensitivity and high speed have never been compatible with high-temperature operation6,7. Here we show that a long-wavelength (nine micrometres) infrared quantum-well photodetector8 fabricated from a metamaterial made of sub-wavelength metallic resonators9,10,11,12 exhibits strongly enhanced performance with respect to the state of the art up to room temperature. This occurs because the photonic collection area of each resonator is much larger than its electrical area, thus substantially reducing the dark current of the device13. Furthermore, we show that our photonic architecture overcomes intrinsic limitations of the material, such as the drop of the electronic drift velocity with temperature14,15, which constrains conventional geometries at cryogenic operation6. Finally, the reduced physical area of the device and its increased responsivity allow us to take advantage of the intrinsic high-frequency response of the quantum detector7 at room temperature. By mixing the frequencies of two quantum-cascade lasers16 on the detector, which acts as a heterodyne receiver, we have measured a high-frequency signal, above four gigahertz (GHz). Therefore, these wide-band uncooled detectors could benefit technologies such as high-speed (gigabits per second) multichannel coherent data transfer17 and high-precision molecular spectroscopy18.

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We acknowledge financial support from the FP7 ITN NOTEDEV project (grant number 607521), the ERC grant ADEQUATE, the French National Research Agency (ANR-16-CE24-0020 Project “hoUDINi”) and the EPSRC (UK) projects COTS and HYPERTERAHERTZ (EP/J017671/1, EP/P021859/1). E.H.L. and A.G.D. acknowledge support from the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation and thank L. Chen for support with device processing.

Author information


  1. Laboratoire Matériaux et Phénomènes Quantiques, Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, CNRS-UMS 7162, 75013 Paris, France

    • Daniele Palaferri
    • , Yanko Todorov
    • , Azzurra Bigioli
    • , Alireza Mottaghizadeh
    • , Djamal Gacemi
    • , Allegra Calabrese
    • , Angela Vasanelli
    •  & Carlo Sirtori
  2. School of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT Leeds, UK

    • Lianhe Li
    • , A. Giles Davies
    •  & Edmund H. Linfield
  3. ETH Zurich, Institute of Quantum Electronics, Auguste-Piccard-Hof 1, 8093 Zurich, Switzerland

    • Filippos Kapsalidis
    • , Mattias Beck
    •  & Jérôme Faist


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D.P., Y.T. and C.S. conceived the experiments, designed the QWIP structure, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. D.P. fabricated the QWIP devices and performed measurements and data analysis, together with A.B. A.M. and D.G. helped with the heterodyne measurements. A.C. calibrated the blackbody for the responsivity measurements and helped with the characterization of the mesa device. A.V. helped with data analysis. L.L., A.G.D. and E.H.L. grew the QWIP structure and provided the wafer-bonding for the double-metal processing. F.K., M.B. and J.F. provided the DFB QCLs for the heterodyne experiment. All the work was supervised by C.S.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carlo Sirtori.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks H. Schneider and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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