Highly sensitive photon detectors are regarded as the key enabling elements in many applications. Due to the low photon energy at the short-wave infrared (SWIR), photon detection and imaging at this band are very challenging. As such, many efforts in photon detector research are directed toward improving the performance of the photon detectors operating in this wavelength range. To solve these problems, we have developed an electron-injection (EI) technique. The significance of this detection mechanism is that it can provide both high efficiency and high sensitivity at room temperature, a condition that is very difficult to achieve in conventional SWIR detectors. An EI detector offers an overall system-level sensitivity enhancement due to a feedback stabilized internal avalanche-free gain. Devices exhibit an excess noise of unity, operate in linear mode, require bias voltage of a few volts, and have a cutoff wavelength of 1700 nm. We review the material system, operating principle, and development of EI detectors. The shortcomings of the first-generation devices were addressed in the second-generation detectors. Measurement on second-generation devices showed a high-speed response of
rise time, low jitter of less than 20 ps, high amplification of more than 2000 (at optical power levels larger than a few nW), unity excess noise factor, and low leakage current (amplified dark current
at a bias voltage of
and at room temperature. These characteristics make EI detectors a good candidate for high-resolution flash light detection and ranging (LiDAR) applications with millimeter scale depth resolution at longer ranges compared with conventional p-i-n diodes. Based on our experimentally measured device characteristics, we compare the performance of the EI detector with commercially available linear mode InGaAs avalanche photodiode (APD) as well as a p-i-n diode using a theoretical model. Flash LiDAR images obtained by our model show that the EI detector array achieves better resolution with higher signal-to-noise compared with both the InGaAs APD and the p-i-n array (of
elements). We have designed a laboratory setup with a receiver optics aperture diameter of 3 mm that allows an EI detector (with
absorber diameter) to be used for long-range LiDAR imaging with subcentimeter resolution.