Summary
Photon counting is a technique in which individual photons are counted using a single-photon detector (SPD). A single-photon detector emits a pulse of signal for each detected photon. The counting efficiency is determined by the quantum efficiency and the system's electronic losses. Many photodetectors can be configured to detect individual photons, each with relative advantages and disadvantages. Common types include photomultipliers, geiger counters, single-photon avalanche diodes, superconducting nanowire single-photon detectors, transition edge sensors, and scintillation counters. Charge-coupled devices can be used. Photon counting eliminates gain noise, where the proportionality constant between analog signal out and number of photons varies randomly. Thus, the excess noise factor of a photon-counting detector is unity, and the achievable signal-to-noise ratio for a fixed number of photons is generally higher than the same detector without photon counting. Photon counting can improve temporal resolution. In a conventional detector, multiple arriving photons generate overlapping impulse responses, limiting temporal resolution to approximately the fall time of the detector. However, if it is known that a single photon was detected, the center of the impulse response can be evaluated to precisely determine its arrival time. Using time-correlated single-photon counting (TCSPC), temporal resolution of less than 25 ps has been demonstrated using detectors with a fall time more than 20 times greater. Single-photon detectors are typically limited to detecting one photon at a time and may require time between detection events to reset. Photons that arrive during this interval may not be detected. Therefore, the maximum light intensity that can be accurately measured is typically low. Measurements composed of small numbers of photons intrinsically have a low signal-to-noise ratio caused by the randomly varying numbers of emitted photons. This effect is less pronounced in conventional detectors that can concurrently detect large numbers of photons.
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