History of infrared detectors

A. Rogalski 1
  • 1 Institute of Applied Physics, Military University of Technology, 2 Kaliskiego Str., 00-908, Warsaw, Poland

Abstract

This paper overviews the history of infrared detector materials starting with Herschel’s experiment with thermometer on February 11th, 1800. Infrared detectors are in general used to detect, image, and measure patterns of the thermal heat radiation which all objects emit. At the beginning, their development was connected with thermal detectors, such as thermocouples and bolometers, which are still used today and which are generally sensitive to all infrared wavelengths and operate at room temperature. The second kind of detectors, called the photon detectors, was mainly developed during the 20th Century to improve sensitivity and response time. These detectors have been extensively developed since the 1940’s. Lead sulphide (PbS) was the first practical IR detector with sensitivity to infrared wavelengths up to ∼3 μm. After World War II infrared detector technology development was and continues to be primarily driven by military applications. Discovery of variable band gap HgCdTe ternary alloy by Lawson and co-workers in 1959 opened a new area in IR detector technology and has provided an unprecedented degree of freedom in infrared detector design. Many of these advances were transferred to IR astronomy from Departments of Defence research. Later on civilian applications of infrared technology are frequently called “dual-use technology applications.” One should point out the growing utilisation of IR technologies in the civilian sphere based on the use of new materials and technologies, as well as the noticeable price decrease in these high cost technologies. In the last four decades different types of detectors are combined with electronic readouts to make detector focal plane arrays (FPAs). Development in FPA technology has revolutionized infrared imaging. Progress in integrated circuit design and fabrication techniques has resulted in continued rapid growth in the size and performance of these solid state arrays.

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