Technology 3 min read

Avalanche Photodiode Semiconductor for Ultrafast Communication

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Glitterstudio /

A light detector similar to photomultipliers called avalanche photodiode (APD) is an extremely sensitive semiconductor device that converts light to electricity.

One of the many applications of the photoelectric effect of these photodiodes is higher data transmission rates over long distances, compared to conventional semiconductor devices.

The need for fast and supersensitive avalanche photodiodes goes beyond high-speed data fiber-optic telecommunications to autonomous cars (LIDAR systems), seismology, 3D mapping, and geomorphology, to name a few.

Highly sensitive, Low-Noise Avalanche Photodiode

Sought after for a wide range of uses, silicon avalanche photodiodes, however, suffer from limited sensitivity and high excess noise.

But now, a research group reports the development of a “world-leading Compound Semiconductor (CS) technology that overcomes the severe shortcomings of existing avalanche photodiodes.

This research collaboration involved physicists from Cardiff University, the University of Sheffield, and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

The team designed novel avalanche photodiodes with extremely low excess noise and high sensitivity, as a solution to the future need for high-speed data communications.

Lead researcher Diana Huffaker, Professor at Cardiff’s School of Physics and Astronomy, explains the technique used and the role of her Sêr Cymru Compound Semiconductors Research Group:

“The innovation lies in the advanced materials development using molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) to “grow” the compound semiconductor crystal in an atom-by-atom regime. This particular material is rather complex and challenging to synthesize as it combines four different atoms requiring a new MBE methodology. The Ser Cymru MBE facility is designed specifically to realize an entire family of challenging materials targeting future sensing solutions.

Our findings can change the global field of research in APDs. The material we have developed can be a direct substitute in the current existing APDs, yielding a higher data transmission rate or enabling a much longer transmission distance.”

According to the researchers, the results of their study show these ultrasensitive, and low-noise avalanche photodiodes can operate in room-temperature and in environments with very low-signal. But, most importantly, the new APDs are compatible with the current optoelectronic platform used by most commercial telecom vendors.

“Our research produces direct benefits for industry,” said Huffaker. “We are working closely with Airbus and the Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult to apply this technology to future free space optics communication system.”

Looking ahead, the team from Ser Cymru and Sheffield is preparing a funding proposal to submit to the UK Research and Innovation to continue their work.

A paper describing the new avalanche photodiode is published in Nature Photonics.

Read More: Researchers Test Millimeter Wave Tech for Long-Distance Communication

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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