Photomultiplier tube

Photomultiplier tubes (photomultipliers or PMTs for short), members of the class of vacuum tubes, and more specifically vacuum phototubes, are extremely sensitive detectors of light in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum. These detectors multiply the current produced by incident light by as much as 100 million times or 108 (i.e., 160 dB)[1], in multiple dynode stages, enabling (for example) individual photons to be detected when the incident flux of light is low.

Dynodes inside a photomultiplier tube

The combination of high gain, low noise, high frequency response or, equivalently, ultra-fast response, and large area of collection has maintained photomultipliers an essential place in low light level spectroscopy, confocal microscopy, Raman spectroscopy, fluorescence spectroscopy, nuclear and particle physics, astronomy, medical diagnostics including blood tests, medical imaging, motion picture film scanning (telecine), radar jamming, and high-end image scanners known as drum scanners. Elements of photomultiplier technology, when integrated differently, are the basis of night vision devices. Research that analyzes light scattering, such as the study of polymers in solution, often uses a laser and a PMT to collect the scattered light data.

Semiconductor devices, particularly avalanche photodiodes, are alternatives to photomultipliers; however, photomultipliers are uniquely well-suited for applications requiring low-noise, high-sensitivity detection of light that is imperfectly collimated.


Structure and operating principles

Fig.1: Schematic of a photomultiplier tube coupled to a scintillator. This arrangement is for detection of gamma rays.
PMT Voltage Divider
Fig. 2: Typical photomultiplier voltage divider circuit using negative high voltage.

Photomultipliers are typically constructed with an evacuated glass housing (using an extremely tight and durable glass-to-metal seal like other vacuum tubes), containing a photocathode, several dynodes, and an anode. Incident photons strike the photocathode material, which is usually a thin vapor-deposited conducting layer on the inside of the entry window of the device. Electrons are ejected from the surface as a consequence of the photoelectric effect. These electrons are directed by the focusing electrode toward the electron multiplier, where electrons are multiplied by the process of secondary emission.

The electron multiplier consists of a number of electrodes called dynodes. Each dynode is held at a more positive potential, by ≈100 Volts, than the preceding one. A primary electron leaves the photocathode with the energy of the incoming photon, or about 3 eV for "blue" photons, minus the work function of the photocathode. A small group of primary electrons is created by the arrival of a group of initial photons. (In Fig. 1, the number of primary electrons in the initial group is proportional to the energy of the incident high energy gamma ray.) The primary electrons move toward the first dynode because they are accelerated by the electric field. They each arrive with ≈100 eV kinetic energy imparted by the potential difference. Upon striking the first dynode, more low energy electrons are emitted, and these electrons are in turn accelerated toward the second dynode. The geometry of the dynode chain is such that a cascade occurs with an exponentially-increasing number of electrons being produced at each stage. For example, if at each stage an average of 5 new electrons are produced for each incoming electron, and if there are 12 dynode stages, then at the last stage one expects for each primary electron about 512 ≈ 108 electrons. This last stage is called the anode. This large number of electrons reaching the anode results in a sharp current pulse that is easily detectable, for example on an oscilloscope, signaling the arrival of the photon(s) at the photocathode ≈50 nanoseconds earlier.

The necessary distribution of voltage along the series of dynodes is created by a voltage divider chain, as illustrated in Fig. 2. In the example, the photocathode is held at a negative high voltage of order 1000 V, while the anode is very close to ground potential. The capacitors across the final few dynodes act as local reservoirs of charge to help maintain the voltage on the dynodes while electron avalanches propagate through the tube. Many variations of design are used in practice; the design shown is merely illustrative.

There are two common photomultiplier orientations, the head-on or end-on (transmission mode) design, as shown above, where light enters the flat, circular top of the tube and passes the photocathode, and the side-on design (reflection mode), where light enters at a particular spot on the side of the tube, and impacts on an opaque photocathode. The side-on design is used, for instance, in the type 931, the first mass-produced PMT. Besides the different photocathode materials, performance is also affected by the transmission of the window material that the light passes through, and by the arrangement of the dynodes. Many photomultiplier models are available having various combinations of these, and other, design variables. The manufacturers manuals provide the information needed to choose an appropriate design for a particular application.


The invention of the photomultiplier is predicated upon two prior achievements, the separate discoveries of the photoelectric effect and of secondary emission.

Photoelectric effect

The first demonstration of the photoelectric effect was carried out in 1887 by Heinrich Hertz using ultraviolet light.[2] Significant for practical applications, Elster and Geitel two years later demonstrated the same effect using visible light striking alkali metals (potassium and sodium).[3] The addition of caesium, another alkali metal, has permitted the range of sensitive wavelengths to be extended towards longer wavelengths in the red portion of the visible spectrum.

Historically, the photoelectric effect is associated with Albert Einstein, who relied upon the phenomenon to establish the fundamental principle of quantum mechanics in 1905,[4] an accomplishment for which Einstein received the 1921 Nobel Prize. It is worthwhile to note that Heinrich Hertz, working 18 years earlier, had not recognized that the kinetic energy of the emitted electrons is proportional to the frequency but independent of the optical intensity. This fact implied a discrete nature of light, i.e. the existence of quanta, for the first time.

Secondary emission

The phenomenon of secondary emission (the ability of electrons in a vacuum tube to cause the emission of additional electrons by striking an electrode) was, at first, limited to purely electronic phenomena and devices (which lacked photosensitivity). In 1899 the effect was first reported by Villard.[5] In 1902, Austin and Starke reported that the metal surfaces impacted by electron beams emitted a larger number of electrons than were incident.[6] The application of the newly discovered secondary emission to the amplification of signals was only proposed after World War I by Westinghouse scientist Joseph Slepian in a 1919 patent.[7]

The race towards a practical electronic television camera

The ingredients for inventing the photomultiplier were coming together during the 1920s as the pace of vacuum tube technology accelerated. The primary goal for many, if not most, workers was the need for a practical television camera technology. Television had been pursued with primitive prototypes for decades prior to the 1934 introduction of the first practical camera (the iconoscope). Early prototype television cameras lacked sensitivity. Photomultiplier technology was pursued to enable television camera tubes, such as the iconoscope and (later) the orthicon, to be sensitive enough to be practical. So the stage was set to combine the dual phenomena of photoemission (i.e., the photoelectric effect) with secondary emission, both of which had already been studied and adequately understood, to create a practical photomultiplier.

First photomultiplier, single-stage (early 1934)

The first documented photomultiplier demonstration dates to the early 1934 accomplishments of an RCA group based in Harrison, NJ. Harley Iams and Bernard Salzberg were the first to integrate a photoelectric-effect cathode and single secondary emission amplification stage in a single vacuum envelope and the first to characterize its performance as a photomultiplier with electron amplification gain. These accomplishments were finalized prior to June 1934 as detailed in the manuscript submitted to Proceedings of the Institute of Radio Engineers (Proc. IRE).[8] The device consisted of a semi-cylindrical photocathode, a secondary emitter mounted on the axis, and a collector grid surrounding the secondary emitter. The tube had a gain of about eight and operated at frequencies well above 10 kHz.

Magnetic photomultipliers (mid 1934–1937)

Higher gains were sought than those available from the early single-stage photomultipliers. However, it is an empirical fact that the yield of secondary electrons is limited in any given secondary emission process, regardless of acceleration voltage. Thus, any single-stage photomultiplier is limited in gain. At the time the maximum first-stage gain that could be achieved was approximately 10 (very significant developments in the 1960s permitted gains above 25 to be reached using negative electron affinity dynodes). For this reason, multiple-stage photomultipliers, in which the photoelectron yield could be multiplied successively in several stages, were an important goal. The challenge was to cause the photoelectrons to impinge on successively higher-voltage electrodes rather than to travel directly to the highest voltage electrode. Initially this challenge was overcome by using strong magnetic fields to bend the electrons' trajectories. Such a scheme had earlier been conceived by inventor J. Slepian by 1919 (see above). Accordingly, leading international research organizations turned their attention towards improving photomultiplers to achieve higher gain with multiple stages.

In the USSR, RCA-manufactured radio equipment was introduced on a large scale by Joseph Stalin to construct broadcast networks, and the newly formed All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Television was gearing up a research program in vacuum tubes that was advanced for its time and place. Numerous visits were made by RCA scientific personnel to the USSR in the 1930s, prior to the Cold War, to instruct the Soviet customers on the capabilities of RCA equipment and to investigate customer needs.[9] During one of these visits, in September 1934, RCA's Vladimir Zworykin was shown the first multiple-dynode photomultiplier, or photoelectron multiplier. This pioneering device was proposed by Leonid A. Kubetsky in 1930[10] which he subsequently built in 1934. The device achieved gains of 1000x or more when demonstrated in June 1934. The work was submitted for print publication only two years later, in July 1936[11] as emphasized in a recent 2006 publication of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS),[12] which terms it "Kubetsky's Tube." The Soviet device used a magnetic field to confine the secondary electrons and relied on the Ag-O-Cs photocathode which had been demonstrated by General Electric in the 1920s.

By October 1935, Vladimir Zworykin, George Ashmun Morton, and Louis Malter of RCA in Camden, NJ submitted their manuscript describing the first comprehensive experimental and theoretical analysis of a multiple dynode tube — the device later called a photomultiplier[13] — to Proc. IRE. The RCA prototype photomultipliers also used an Ag-O-Cs (silver oxide-caesium) photocathode. They exhibited a peak quantum efficiency of 0.4% at 800 nm.

Electrostatic photomultipliers (1937–present)

Whereas these early photomultipliers used the magnetic field principle, electrostatic photomultipliers (with no magnetic field) were demonstrated by Jan Rajchman of RCA Laboratories in Princeton, NJ in the late 1930s and became the standard for all future commercial photomultipliers. The first mass-produced photomultiplier, the Type 931, was of this design and is still commercially produced today.[14]

Improved photocathodes

Also in 1936, a much improved photocathode, Cs3Sb (caesium-antimony), was reported by P. Görlich.[15] The caesium-antimony photocathode had a dramatically improved quantum efficiency of 12% at 400 nm, and was used in the first commercially successful photomultipliers manufactured by RCA (i.e., the 931-type) both as a photocathode and as a secondary-emitting material for the dynodes. Different photocathodes provided differing spectral responses.

Spectral response of photocathodes

In the early 1940s, the JEDEC (Joint Electron Device Engineering Council), an industry committee on standardization, developed a system of designating spectral responses.[16] The philosophy included the idea that the product's user need only be concerned about the response of the device rather than how the device may be fabricated. Various combinations of photocathode and window materials were assigned "S-numbers" (spectral numbers) ranging from S-1 through S-40, which are still in use today. For example, S-11 uses the caesium-antimony photocathode with a lime glass window, S-13 uses the same photocathode with a fused silica window, and S-25 uses a so-called "multialkali" photocathode (Na-K-Sb-Cs, or sodium-potassium-antimony-caesium) that provides extended response in the red portion of the visible light spectrum. No suitable photoemissive surfaces have yet been reported to detect wavelengths longer than approximately 1700 nanometers, which can be approached by a special (InP/InGaAs(Cs)) photocathode.[17]

RCA Corporation

For decades, RCA was responsible for performing the most important work in developing and refining photomultipliers. RCA was also largely responsible for the commercialization of photomultiplers. The company compiled and published an authoritative and widely used Photomultiplier Handbook.[18] RCA provided printed copies free upon request. The handbook, which continues to be made available online at no cost by the successors to RCA, is considered to be an essential reference.

Following a corporate break-up in the late 1980s involving the acquisition of RCA by General Electric and disposition of the divisions of RCA to numerous third parties, RCA's photomultiplier business became an independent company.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility was opened by the U.S. Navy in 1942 and operated by RCA for the manufacture of radio and microwave tubes. Following World War II, the naval facility was acquired by RCA. RCA Lancaster, as it became known, was the base for the development and the production of commercial television products. In subsequent years other products were added, such as "cathode-ray" tubes, photomultiplier tubes, motion-sensing light control switches, and closed-circuit television systems.

Burle Industries

Burle Industries, as a successor to the RCA Corporation, carried the RCA photomultiplier business forward after 1986, based in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania facility. The 1986 acquisition of RCA by General Electric resulted in the divestiture of the RCA Lancaster New Products Division. Hence, 45 years after being founded by the U.S. Navy, its management team, led by Erich Burlefinger, purchased the division and in 1987 founded Burle Industries.

In 2005, after eighteen years as an independent enterprise, Burle Industries and a key subsidiary were acquired by Photonis, a European holding company Photonis Group. Following the acquisition, Photonis was composed of Photonis Netherlands, Photonis France, Photonis USA, and Burle Industries. Photonis USA operates the former Galileo Corporation Scientific Detector Products Group (Sturbridge, Massachusetts), which had been purchased by Burle Industries in 1999. The group is known for microchannel plate detector (MCP) electron multipliers—an integrated micro-vacuum tube version of photomultipliers. MCPs are used for imaging and scientific applications, including night vision devices.

On 9 March 2009, Photonis announced that it would cease all production of photomultipliers at both the Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the Brive, France plants.[19]


The Japan-based company Hamamatsu Photonics (also known as Hamamatsu) has emerged since the 1950s as a leader in the photomultiplier industry. Hamamatsu, in the tradition of RCA, has published its own handbook, which is available without cost on the company's website.[20] Hamamatsu uses different designations for particular photocathode formulations and introduces modifications to these designations based on Hamamatsu's proprietary research and development.

Photocathode materials

The photocathodes can be made of a variety of materials, with different properties. Typically the materials have low work function and are therefore prone to thermionic emission, causing noise and dark current, especially the materials sensitive in infrared; cooling the photocathode lowers this thermal noise. The most common photocathode materials are[21] Ag-O-Cs (also called S1) transmission-mode, sensitive from 300–1200 nm. High dark current; used mainly in near-infrared, with the photocathode cooled; GaAs:Cs, caesium-activated gallium arsenide, flat response from 300 to 850 nm, fading towards ultraviolet and to 930 nm; InGaAs:Cs, caesium-activated indium gallium arsenide, higher infrared sensitivity than GaAs:Cs, between 900–1000 nm much higher signal-to-noise ratio than Ag-O-Cs; Sb-Cs, (also called S11) caesium-activated antimony, used for reflective mode photocathodes; response range from ultraviolet to visible, widely used; bialkali (Sb-K-Cs, Sb-Rb-Cs), caesium-activated antimony-rubidium or antimony-potassium alloy, similar to Sb:Cs, with higher sensitivity and lower noise. can be used for transmission-mode; favorable response to a NaI:Tl scintillator flashes makes them widely used in gamma spectroscopy and radiation detection; high-temperature bialkali (Na-K-Sb), can operate up to 175 °C, used in well logging, low dark current at room temperature; multialkali (Na-K-Sb-Cs), (also called S20), wide spectral response from ultraviolet to near-infrared, special cathode processing can extend range to 930 nm, used in broadband spectrophotometers; solar-blind (Cs-Te, Cs-I), sensitive to vacuum-UV and ultraviolet, insensitive to visible light and infrared (Cs-Te has cutoff at 320 nm, Cs-I at 200 nm).

Window materials

The windows of the photomultipliers act as wavelength filters; this may be irrelevant if the cutoff wavelengths are outside of the application range or outside of the photocathode sensitivity range, but special care has to be taken for uncommon wavelengths. Borosilicate glass is commonly used for near-infrared to about 300 nm. High borate borosilicate glasses exist also in high UV transmission versions with high transmission also at 254 nm.[22] Glass with very low content of potassium can be used with bialkali photocathodes to lower the background radiation from the potassium-40 isotope. Ultraviolet glass transmits visible and ultraviolet down to 185 nm. Used in spectroscopy. Synthetic silica transmits down to 160 nm, absorbs less UV than fused silica. Different thermal expansion than kovar (and than borosilicate glass that's expansion-matched to kovar), a graded seal needed between the window and the rest of the tube. The seal is vulnerable to mechanical shocks. Magnesium fluoride transmits ultraviolet down to 115 nm. Hygroscopic, though less than other alkali halides usable for UV windows.

Usage considerations

Photomultiplier tubes typically utilize 1000 to 2000 volts to accelerate electrons within the chain of dynodes. (See Figure near top of article.) The most negative voltage is connected to the cathode, and the most positive voltage is connected to the anode. Negative high-voltage supplies (with the positive terminal grounded) are often preferred, because this configuration enables the photocurrent to be measured at the low voltage side of the circuit for amplification by subsequent electronic circuits operating at low voltage. However, with the photocathode at high voltage, leakage currents sometimes result in unwanted "dark current" pulses that may affect the operation. Voltages are distributed to the dynodes by a resistive voltage divider, although variations such as active designs (with transistors or diodes) are possible. The divider design, which influences frequency response or rise time, can be selected to suit varying applications. Some instruments that use photomultipliers have provisions to vary the anode voltage to control the gain of the system.

While powered (energized), photomultipliers must be shielded from ambient light to prevent their destruction through overexcitation. In some applications this protection is accomplished mechanically by electrical interlocks or shutters that protect the tube when the photomultiplier compartment is opened. Another option is to add overcurrent protection in the external circuit, so that when the measured anode current exceeds a safe limit, the high voltage is reduced.

If used in a location with strong magnetic fields, which can curve electron paths, steer the electrons away from the dynodes and cause loss of gain, photomultipliers are usually magnetically shielded by a layer of soft iron or mu-metal. This magnetic shield is often maintained at cathode potential. When this is the case, the external shield must also be electrically insulated because of the high voltage on it. Photomultipliers with large distances between the photocathode and the first dynode are especially sensitive to magnetic fields.[21]


Photomultipliers were the first electric eye devices, being used to measure interruptions in beams of light. Photomultipliers are used in conjunction with scintillators to detect Ionizing radiation by means of hand held and fixed radiation protection instruments, and particle radiation in physics experiments.[23] Photomultipliers are used in research laboratories to measure the intensity and spectrum of light-emitting materials such as compound semiconductors and quantum dots. Photomultipliers are used as the detector in many spectrophotometers. This allows an instrument design that escapes the thermal noise limit on sensitivity, and which can therefore substantially increase the dynamic range of the instrument.

Photomultipliers are used in numerous medical equipment designs. For example, blood analysis devices used by clinical medical laboratories, such as flow cytometers, utilize photomultipliers to determine the relative concentration of various components in blood samples, in combination with optical filters and incandescent lamps. An array of photomultipliers is used in a gamma camera. Photomultipliers are typically used as the detectors in flying-spot scanners.

High-sensitivity applications

After 50 years, during which solid-state electronic components have largely displaced the vacuum tube, the photomultiplier remains a unique and important optoelectronic component. Perhaps its most useful quality is that it acts, electronically, as a nearly perfect current source, owing to the high voltage utilized in extracting the tiny currents associated with weak light signals. There is no Johnson noise associated with photomultiplier signal currents, even though they are greatly amplified, e.g., by 100 thousand times (i.e., 100 dB) or more. The photocurrent still contains shot noise.

Photomultiplier-amplified photocurrents can be electronically amplified by a high-input-impedance electronic amplifier (in the signal path subsequent to the photomultiplier), thus producing appreciable voltages even for nearly infinitesimally small photon fluxes. Photomultipliers offer the best possible opportunity to exceed the Johnson noise for many configurations. The aforementioned refers to measurement of light fluxes that, while small, nonetheless amount to a continuous stream of multiple photons.

For smaller photon fluxes, the photomultiplier can be operated in photon-counting, or Geiger, mode (see also Single-photon avalanche diode). In Geiger mode the photomultiplier gain is set so high (using high voltage) that a single photo-electron resulting from a single photon incident on the primary surface generates a very large current at the output circuit. However, owing to the avalanche of current, a reset of the photomultiplier is required. In either case, the photomultiplier can detect individual photons. The drawback, however, is that not every photon incident on the primary surface is counted either because of less-than-perfect efficiency of the photomultiplier, or because a second photon can arrive at the photomultiplier during the "dead time" associated with a first photon and never be noticed.

A photomultiplier will produce a small current even without incident photons; this is called the dark current. Photon-counting applications generally demand photomultipliers designed to minimise dark current.

Nonetheless, the ability to detect single photons striking the primary photosensitive surface itself reveals the quantization principle that Einstein put forth. Photon counting (as it is called) reveals that light, not only being a wave, consists of discrete particles (i.e., photons).

See also


  1. ^ Decibels are power ratios. Power is proportional to I2 (current squared). Thus a current gain of 108 produces a power gain of 1016, or 160 dB
  2. ^ H. Hertz (1887). "Ueber einen Einfluss des ultravioletten Lichtes auf die electrische Entladung". Annalen der Physik. 267 (8): 983–1000. Bibcode:1887AnP...267..983H. doi:10.1002/andp.18872670827.
  3. ^ Elster, Julius; Geitel, Hans (1889). "Ueber die Entladung negativ electrischer Körper durch das Sonnen- und Tageslicht". Annalen der Physik. 274 (12): 497. Bibcode:1889AnP...274..497E. doi:10.1002/andp.18892741202.
  4. ^ A. Einstein (1905). "Über einen die Erzeugung und Verwandlung des Lichtes betreffenden heuristischen Gesichtspunkt" (PDF). Annalen der Physik. 322 (6): 132–148. Bibcode:1905AnP...322..132E. doi:10.1002/andp.19053220607. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-07-09.
  5. ^ Arifov, U. A. (14 December 2013). Interaction of Atomic Particles with a Solid Surface / Vzaimodeistvie Atomnykh Chastits S Poverkhnost'yu Tverdogo Tela / Взаимодействие Атомных Частиц С Поверхностью Твердого Тела. Springer. ISBN 9781489948090. Archived from the original on 12 March 2017 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ H. Bruining, Physics and applications of secondary electron emission, (McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc.; 1954).
  7. ^ J. Slepian, Westinghouse Electric, "Hot Cathode Tube" U.S. Patent 1,450,265, Issued April 3, 1923 (Filed 1919)
  8. ^ Iams, H.; Salzberg, B. (1935). "The Secondary Emission Phototube". Proceedings of the IRE. 23: 55. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1935.227243.
  9. ^ A.B. Magoun Adding Sight to Sound in Stalin’s Russia: RCA and the Transfer of Television Technology to the Soviet Union Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine, Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), Amsterdam (2004)
  10. ^ "Кубецкий Леонид Александрович" [Kubetsky Leonid Aleksandrovich]. Большая советская энциклопедия [Great Soviet Encyclopedia] (in Russian). 13 (3 ed.). Moscow: Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya. 1973.
  11. ^ Kubetsky, L.A. (1937). "Multiple Amplifier". Proceedings of the IRE. 25 (4): 421. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1937.229045.
  12. ^ Lubsandorzhiev, B (2006). "On the history of photomultiplier tube invention". Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment. 567 (1): 236. arXiv:physics/0601159. Bibcode:2006NIMPA.567..236L. doi:10.1016/j.nima.2006.05.221.
  13. ^ Zworykin, V.K.; Morton, G.A.; Malter, L. (1936). "The Secondary Emission Multiplier-A New Electronic Device". Proceedings of the IRE. 24 (3): 351. doi:10.1109/JRPROC.1936.226435.
  14. ^ J. Rajchman and E.W. Pike, RCA Technical Report TR-362, "Electrostatic Focusing in Secondary Emission Multipliers," September 9, 1937
  15. ^ Görlich, P. (1936). "Über zusammengesetzte, durchsichtige Photokathoden". Zeitschrift für Physik. 101 (5–6): 335. Bibcode:1936ZPhy..101..335G. doi:10.1007/BF01342330.
  16. ^ "Relative spectral response data for photosensitive devices ("S" curves)," JEDEC Publication No. 50, Electronic Industries Association, Engineering Department, 2001 I Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006 (1964)
  17. ^ "Hamamatsu PMT Handbook" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 2014-05-04. Retrieved 2009-04-21. p. 34, Table 4-1: Typical Spectral Response Characteristics, Transmission Mode Photocathodes
  18. ^ RCA Corporation (1970). RCA Photomultiplier Manual. Archived from the original on 2016-06-12.
  19. ^ PHOTONIS will stop its Photomultiplier activity
  20. ^ Hamamatsu Photonics K. K. (2007). PHOTOMULTIPLIER TUBES Basics and Applications (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-17.
  21. ^ a b Photomultiplier Tubes. Construction and Operating Characteristics. Connections to External Circuits, Hamamatsu
  22. ^ "SCHOTT - Glass Tubing Explorer". Archived from the original on 2016-07-11.
  23. ^ "HP-265 Pancake G-M Probe".


External links

Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array

The Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA) is a neutrino telescope located beneath the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station. In 2005, after nine years of operation, AMANDA officially became part of its successor project, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

AMANDA consists of optical modules, each containing one photomultiplier tube, sunk in Antarctic ice cap at a depth of about 1500 to 1900 metres. In its latest development stage, known as AMANDA-II, AMANDA is made up of an array of 677 optical modules mounted on 19 separate strings that are spread out in a rough circle with a diameter of 200 metres. Each string has several dozen modules, and was put in place by "drilling" a hole in the ice using a hot-water hose, sinking the cable with attached optical modules in, and then letting the ice freeze around it.

AMANDA detects very high energy neutrinos (50+ GeV) which pass through the Earth from the northern hemisphere and then react just as they are leaving upwards through the Antarctic ice. The neutrino interacts with nuclei of oxygen or hydrogen atoms contained in the surrounding water ice through the weak nuclear force, producing a muon and a hadronic shower. The optical modules detect the Cherenkov radiation from these latter particles, and by analysis of the timing of photon hits can approximately determine the direction of the original neutrino with a spatial resolution of approximately 2 degrees.

AMANDA's goal was an attempt at neutrino astronomy, identifying and characterizing extra-solar sources of neutrinos. Compared to underground detectors like Super-Kamiokande in Japan, AMANDA was capable of looking at higher energy neutrinos because it is not limited in volume to a manmade tank; however, it had much less accuracy because of the less controlled conditions and wider spacing of photomultipliers. Super-Kamiokande can look at much greater detail at neutrinos from the Sun and those generated in the Earth's atmosphere; however, at higher energies, the spectrum should include neutrinos dominated by those from sources outside the solar system. Such a new view into the cosmos could give important clues in the search for Dark Matter and other astrophysical phenomena.

After two years of integrated operation as part of IceCube, the AMANDA counting house (in the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory) was decommissioned in July and August 2009.


Cathodoluminescence is an optical and electromagnetic phenomenon in which electrons impacting on a luminescent material such as a phosphor, cause the emission of photons which may have wavelengths in the visible spectrum. A familiar example is the generation of light by an electron beam scanning the phosphor-coated inner surface of the screen of a television that uses a cathode ray tube. Cathodoluminescence is the inverse of the photoelectric effect, in which electron emission is induced by irradiation with photons.

Dark current (physics)

In physics and in electronic engineering, dark current is the relatively small electric current that flows through photosensitive devices such as a photomultiplier tube, photodiode, or charge-coupled device even when no photons are entering the device; it consists of the charges generated in the detector when no outside radiation is entering the detector. It is referred to as reverse bias leakage current in non-optical devices and is present in all diodes. Physically, dark current is due to the random generation of electrons and holes within the depletion region of the device.

The charge generation rate is related to specific crystallographic defects within the depletion region. Dark-current spectroscopy can be used to determine the defects present by monitoring the peaks in the dark current histogram's evolution with temperature.

Dark current is one of the main sources for noise in image sensors such as charge-coupled devices. The pattern of different dark currents can result in a fixed-pattern noise; dark frame subtraction can remove an estimate of the mean fixed pattern, but there still remains a temporal noise, because the dark current itself has a shot noise.

Everhart-Thornley detector

The Everhart-Thornley Detector (E-T detector or ET detector) is a secondary electron and back-scattered electron detector used in scanning electron microscopes (SEMs). It is named after its designers, Thomas E. Everhart and Richard F. M. Thornley who in 1960 published their design to increase the efficiency of existing secondary electron detectors by adding a light pipe to carry the photon signal from the scintillator inside the evacuated specimen chamber of the SEM to the photomultiplier outside the chamber.

Prior to this Everhart had improved a design for a secondary electron detection by Vladimir Zworykin and J. A. Rajchman by changing the electron multiplier to a photomultiplier. The Everhart-Thornley Detector with its lightguide and highly efficient photomultiplier is the most frequently used detector in SEMs.

The detector consists primarily of a scintillator inside a Faraday cage inside the specimen chamber of the microscope. A low positive voltage is applied to the Faraday cage to attract the relatively low energy (less than 50 eV by definition) secondary electrons. Other electrons within the specimen chamber are not attracted by this low voltage and will only reach the detector if their direction of travel takes them to it. The scintillator has a high positive voltage (in the nature of 10,000 eV) to accelerate the incoming electrons to it where they can be converted to light photons. The direction of their travel is focused to the lightguide by a metal coating on the scintillator acting as a mirror. In the light pipe the photons travel outside of the microscope's vacuum chamber to a photomultiplier tube for amplification.

The E-T secondary electron detector can be used in the SEM's back-scattered electron mode by either turning off the Faraday cage or by applying a negative voltage to the Faraday cage. However, better back-scattered electron images come from dedicated BSE detectors rather than from using the E-T detector as a BSE detector.


The GAMMA experiment is a study of:

Primary cosmic ray energy spectra and elemental composition (abundances of the elements) at energies 1015–1018eV (so called knee energy region)

Galactic diffuse gamma-ray intensity at energies 1014–1015eV

Extensive Air Showers (EAS) at the mountain level by the ground-based EAS array and underground muon scintillation counters

Hard jets production at energies ~1016eV by the muon multi-core shower eventsThe GAMMA experiment is deployed on the South side of Mount Aragats in Armenia (Cosmic-ray observatory). The facility consists of a ground-based extensive air shower (EAS) array of 33 surface detection stations and 150 underground muon detectors. The elevation of the GAMMA facility is 3200 m above sea level, which corresponds to about 700 g/cm2 of atmospheric depth. The surface stations of the EAS array are arranged in 5 concentric circles of 20, 28, 50, 70, and 100 m radii, and each station contains 3 plastic scintillation detectors with the dimensions of 1 m × 1 m × 0.05 m. 9 central detector stations contain an additional small scintillator with dimensions 0.3 m × 0.3 m × 0.05 m for high particle density (much greater than 100 particles/m2) measurements. A photomultiplier tube is placed on the top of the aluminum casing covering each scintillator. One of three detectors of each station is viewed by two photomultipliers, one of which is designed for fast timing measurements. 150 underground muon detectors are compactly arranged in the underground hall under 2.3 kg/cm2 of concrete and rock providing the detection of shower muons with energy greater than 5 GeV.

The results of GAMMA experiment for 2004–2010 runs are presented in references below



A hodoscope (from the Greek "hodos" for way or path, and "skopos" an observer) is an instrument used in particle detectors to detect passing charged particles and determine their trajectories. Hodoscopes are characterized by being made up of many segments; the combination of which segments record a detection is then used to infer where the particle passed through hodoscope.

The typical detector segment is a piece of scintillating material, which emits light when a particle passes through it. The scintillation light can be converted to an electrical signal either by a photomultiplier tube (PMT) or a PIN diode. If a segment measures some significant amount of light, the experimenter can infer that a particle passed through that segment. In addition to coordinate information, for some systems the strength of the light can be proportional to the deposited energy. By doing necessary calibrations, the deposited energy can be determined, which then can be used to infer information about the original particle's energy.

As an example: a simple hodoscope might be used to determine where a particle crossed a plane or a wall. In this case, the experimenter could use two segments shaped like strips, arranged in two layers. One layer of strips could be arranged horizontally, while a second layer could be arranged vertically. A particle passing through the wall would hit a strip in each layer; the vertical strip would reveal the particle's horizontal position when it crossed the wall, while the horizontal strip would indicate the particle's vertical position.

Hodoscopes are some of the simplest detectors for tracking charged particles. However, their spatial resolution is limited by the segment size. In applications where the spatial resolution is very important, hodoscopes have been superseded by other detectors such as drift chambers and time projection chambers.

IceCube Neutrino Observatory

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory (or simply IceCube) is a neutrino observatory constructed at the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica.

Its thousands of sensors are located under the Antarctic ice, distributed over a cubic kilometre.

Similar to its predecessor, the Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA), IceCube consists of spherical optical sensors called Digital Optical Modules (DOMs), each with a photomultiplier tube (PMT) and a single-board data acquisition computer which sends digital data to the counting house on the surface above the array. IceCube was completed on 18 December 2010.DOMs are deployed on strings of 60 modules each at depths between 1,450 to 2,450 meters into holes melted in the ice using a hot water drill. IceCube is designed to look for point sources of neutrinos in the TeV range to explore the highest-energy astrophysical processes.

In November 2013 it was announced that IceCube had detected 28 neutrinos that likely originated outside the Solar System.

Image scanner

An image scanner—often abbreviated to just scanner, although the term is ambiguous out of context (barcode scanner, CT scanner etc.)—is a device that optically scans images, printed text, handwriting or an object and converts it to a digital image. Commonly used in offices are variations of the desktop flatbed scanner where the document is placed on a glass window for scanning. Hand-held scanners, where the device is moved by hand, have evolved from text scanning "wands" to 3D scanners used for industrial design, reverse engineering, test and measurement, orthotics, gaming and other applications. Mechanically driven scanners that move the document are typically used for large-format documents, where a flatbed design would be impractical.

Modern scanners typically use a charge-coupled device (CCD) or a contact image sensor (CIS) as the image sensor, whereas drum scanners, developed earlier and still used for the highest possible image quality, use a photomultiplier tube (PMT) as the image sensor. A rotary scanner, used for high-speed document scanning, is a type of drum scanner that uses a CCD array instead of a photomultiplier. Non-contact planetary scanners essentially photograph delicate books and documents. All these scanners produce two-dimensional images of subjects that are usually flat, but sometimes solid; 3D scanners produce information on the three-dimensional structure of solid objects.

Digital cameras can be used for the same purposes as dedicated scanners. When compared to a true scanner, a camera image is subject to a degree of distortion, reflections, shadows, low contrast, and blur due to camera shake (reduced in cameras with image stabilization). Resolution is sufficient for less demanding applications. Digital cameras offer advantages of speed, portability and non-contact digitizing of thick documents without damaging the book spine. As of 2010 scanning technologies were combining 3D scanners with digital cameras to create full-color, photo-realistic 3D models of objects.In the biomedical research area, detection devices for DNA microarrays are called scanners as well. These scanners are high-resolution systems (up to 1 µm/ pixel), similar to microscopes. The detection is done via CCD or a photomultiplier tube.

Ion-to-photon detector

An ion-to-photon detector (IPD) is a component used for detecting ions in mass spectrometry.

Laser-induced fluorescence

Laser-induced fluorescence (LIF) or laser-stimulated fluorescence (LSF) is a spectroscopic method in which an atom or molecule is excited to a higher energy level by the absorption of laser light followed by spontaneous emission of light. It was first reported by Zare and coworkers in 1968.LIF is used for studying structure of molecules, detection of selective species and flow visualization and measurements. The wavelength is often selected to be the one at which the species has its largest cross section. The excited species will after some time, usually in the order of few nanoseconds to microseconds, de-excite and emit light at a wavelength longer than the excitation wavelength. This fluorescent light is typically recorded with a photomultiplier tube (PMT) or filtered photodiodes.

Lucas cell

A Lucas cell is a type of scintillation counter. It is used to acquire a gas sample, filter out the radioactive particulates through a special filter and then count the radioactive decay. The inside of the gas chamber is coated with ZnS(Ag) - a chemical that emits light when struck by alpha particles. A photomultiplier tube at the top of the chamber counts the photons and sends the count to a data logger.

Optically stimulated luminescence

In physics, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) is a method for measuring doses from ionizing radiation. It is used in at least two applications:

luminescence dating of ancient materials: mainly geological sediments and sometimes fired pottery, bricks etc., although in the latter case thermoluminescence dating is used more often

radiation dosimetry, which is the measurement of accumulated radiation dose in the tissues or cells of an exposed individual such as : a health care, nuclear, research worker, as well as in building materials in regions of nuclear disaster.The method makes use of electrons trapped between the valence and conduction bands in the crystalline structure of certain minerals (most commonly quartz and feldspar). The trapping sites are imperfections of the lattice — impurities or defects. The ionizing radiation produces electron-hole pairs: Electrons are in the conduction band and holes in the valence band. The electrons that have been excited to the conduction band may become entrapped in the electron or hole traps. Under stimulation of light the electrons may free themselves from the trap and get into the conduction band. From the conduction band they may recombine with holes trapped in hole traps. If the centre with the hole is a luminescence center (radiative recombination centre) emission of light will occur. The photons are detected using a photomultiplier tube. The signal from the tube is then used to calculate the dose that the material had absorbed.

The OSL dosimeter provides a new degree of sensitivity by giving an accurate reading as low as 1 mrem for x-ray and gamma ray photons with energies ranging from 5 keV to greater than 40 MeV. The OSL dosimeter's maximum equivalent dose measurement for x-ray and gamma ray photons is 1000 rem. For beta particles with energies from 150 keV to in excess of 10 MeV, dose measurement ranges from 10 mrem to 1000 rem. Neutron radiation with energies of 40 keV to greater than 35 MeV has a dose measurement range from 20 mrem to 25 rem. In diagnostic imaging the increased sensitivity of the OSL dosimeter makes it ideal for monitoring employees working in low-radiation environments and for pregnant workers.To carry out OSL dating, mineral grains have to be extracted from the sample. Most commonly these are so-called coarse grains of 100-200 μm or fine grains of 4-11 μm. Occasionally other grain sizes are used.The difference between radiocarbon dating and OSL is that the former is used to date organic materials, while the latter is used to date minerals. Events that can be dated using OSL are, for example, the mineral's last exposure to sunlight; Mungo Man, Australia's oldest human find, was dated in this manner.

It is also used for dating the deposition of geological sediments after they have been transported by air (aeolian sediments) or rivers (fluvial sediments). In archaeology, OSL dating is applied to ceramics: The dated event is the time of their last heating to a high temperature (in excess of 400 °C).

Recent OSL dating of stone tools in Arabia pushed the "out-of-Africa" date hypothesis of human migration back 50,000 years and added a possible path of migration from the African continent to the Arabian peninsula instead of through Europe.The most popular OSL method is called single-aliquot regeneration (SAR).


A photomultiplier is a device that converts incident photons into an electrical signal.

Kinds of photomultiplier include:

Photomultiplier tube, a vacuum tube converting incident photons into an electric signal. Photomultiplier tubes (PMTs for short) are members of the class of vacuum tubes, and more specifically vacuum phototubes which are extremely sensitive detectors of light in the ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Magnetic photomultiplier, developed by the Soviets in the 1930s.

Electrostatic photomultiplier, a kind of photomultiplier tube demonstrated by Jan Rajchman of RCA Laboratories in Princeton, NJ in the late 1930s which became the standard for all future commercial photomultipliers. The first mass-produced photomultiplier, the Type 931, was of this design and is still commercially produced today.

Silicon photomultiplier, a solid-state device converting incident photons into an electric signal. Silicon photomultipliers, often called "SiPM" in the literature, are solid-state single-photon-sensitive devices based on Single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) implemented on common silicon substrate.

Photon scanning microscopy

The operation of a photon scanning tunneling microscope (PSTM) is analogous to the operation of an electron scanning tunneling microscope (ESTM), with the primary distinction being that PSTM involves tunneling of photons instead of electrons from the sample surface to the probe tip. A beam of light is focused on a prism at an angle greater than the critical angle of the refractive medium in order to induce total internal reflection (TIR) within the prism. Although the beam of light is not propagated through the surface of the refractive prism under TIR, an evanescent field of light is still present at the surface.

The evanescent field is a standing wave which propagates along the surface of the medium and decays exponentially with increasing distance from the surface. The surface wave is modified by the topography of the sample, which is placed on the surface of the prism. By placing a sharpened, optically conducting probe tip very close to the surface (at a distance <λ), photons are able to propagate through the space between the surface and the probe (a space which they would otherwise be unable to occupy) through tunneling, allowing detection of variations in the evanescent field and thus, variations in surface topography of the sample. In this manner, PSTM is able to map the surface topography of a sample in much the same way as in ESTM.

One major advantage of PSTM is that an electrically conductive surface is no longer necessary. This makes imaging of biological samples much simpler and eliminates the need to coat samples in gold or another conductive metal. Furthermore, PSTM can be used to measure the optical properties of a sample and can be coupled with techniques such as photoluminescence, absorption, and Raman spectroscopy.


A phototube or photoelectric cell is a type of gas-filled or vacuum tube that is sensitive to light. Such a tube is more correctly called a 'photoemissive cell' to distinguish it from photovoltaic or photoconductive cells. Phototubes were previously more widely used but are now replaced in many applications by solid state photodetectors. The photomultiplier tube is one of the most sensitive light detectors, and is still widely used in physics research.

Scintillation counter

A scintillation counter is an instrument for detecting and measuring ionizing radiation by using the excitation effect of incident radiation on a scintillating material, and detecting the resultant light pulses.

It consists of a scintillator which generates photons in response to incident radiation, a sensitive photodetector (usually a photomultiplier tube (PMT), a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera, or a photodiode), which converts the light to an electrical signal and electronics to process this signal.

Scintillation counters are widely used in radiation protection, assay of radioactive materials and physics research because they can be made inexpensively yet with good quantum efficiency, and can measure both the intensity and the energy of incident radiation.

Secondary emission

Secondary emission in physics is a phenomenon where primary incident particles of sufficient energy, when hitting a surface or passing through some material, induce the emission of secondary particles. The term often refers to the emission of electrons when charged particles like electrons or ions in a vacuum tube strike a metal surface; these are called secondary electrons. In this case, the number of secondary electrons emitted per incident particle is called secondary emission yield. If the secondary particles are ions, the effect is termed secondary ion emission. Secondary electron emission is used in photomultiplier tubes and image intensifier tubes to amplify the small number of photoelectrons produced by photoemission, making the tube more sensitive. It also occurs as an undesirable side effect in electronic vacuum tubes when electrons from the cathode strike the anode, and can cause parasitic oscillation.

Track Imaging Cherenkov Experiment

The Track Imaging Cherenkov Experiment (TrICE) is a ground-based cosmic ray telescope located at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, IL. The telescope, which contains a Fresnel lens, eight spherical mirrors, and a camera with 16 multianode photomultiplier tubes, uses the atmospheric Cherenkov imaging technique to detect Cherenkov radiation produced when cosmic rays interact with particles in the Earth's atmosphere.

The telescope is primarily a research and development tool for improving photomultiplier tube cameras and electronic systems for future gamma and cosmic ray telescopes. It is also used to study the energy and composition of cosmic rays in the TeV–PeV range, and the collaboration is currently conducting pioneering work in detecting direct Cherenkov signals from cosmic rays.

Voltage regulators
Vacuum tubes
Vacuum tubes (RF)
Cathode ray tubes
Gas-filled tubes
Theoretical principles
Numbering systems
Acoustic, sound, vibration
Automotive, transportation
Electric, magnetic, radio
Environment, weather,
Flow, fluid velocity
Ionising radiation,
subatomic particles
Navigation instruments
Position, angle,
Optical, light, imaging
Force, density, level
Thermal, heat,
Proximity, presence
Sensor technology

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