In 1982, Capasso and co-workers proposed the solid-state analogue of the photomultiplier tube, termed the staircase avalanche photodiode. Through a combination of compositional grading and small applied bias, the conduction band profile is arranged into a series of steps that function similar to the dynodes of a photomultiplier tube, with twofold gain arising at each step via impact ionization. A single-step staircase was previously reported but did not demonstrate gain scaling through cascading multiple steps or report noise properties. Here we demonstrate gain scaling of up to three steps; measurements show the expected 2N scaling with the number of staircase steps, N. Furthermore, measured noise increased more slowly with gain than for photomultiplier tubes, probably due to the lower stochasticity of impact ionization across well-designed heterojunctions as compared with the secondary electron emission from metals. Excellent agreement was found between the experiments and Monte Carlo simulations for both gain and noise.
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The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request. Source data are provided with this paper.
Simulation software used to produce electrostatic models are available at the following GitHub repository: https://github.com/scott-maddox/openbandparams.
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This work was supported by the Army Research Office and DARPA (contract no. W911NF-17-1-0065) and DARPA (contract no. W909MY-12-D-0008). We acknowledge use of Texas Nanofabrication Facilities supported by the NSF NNCI Award 1542159.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Photonics thanks M. Saif Islam and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Impact ionization, band diagrams, gain distributions, source data.
Measured and simulated staircase gain.
Fit-to-measured staircase gain and excess noise.
Staircase excess noise compared to conventional APDs and PMTs.
Estimated SNR performance comparing staircase APD to conventional APDs.
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March, S.D., Jones, A.H., Campbell, J.C. et al. Multistep staircase avalanche photodiodes with extremely low noise and deterministic amplification. Nat. Photonics 15, 468–474 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41566-021-00814-x
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