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ALPhA’s Single Photon Detector Initiative

Breaking News (March, 2018):

ALPhA’s eighth batch order of educationally priced single-photon detectors for instructional labs has sold out. We are working on arrangements for a ninth batch of detectors.

Questions? Potential interest? Contact Andy Dawes at

Photo of the Single Photon Detector produced for ALPhA

Photo of the one of the four single photon detectors manufactured by Excelitas to ALPhA's specifications.

There is a very important, emerging class of instructional laboratory experiments aimed at demonstrating quantum mechanics in the undergraduate curriculum (e.g., demonstrating the existence of photons, single-photon interference, indistinguishability and the quantum eraser, entanglement and tests of Bell’s inequalities, etc.). These labs have been featured highlights of previous BFY conferences and have been incorporated into the highly successful ALPhA Laboratory Immersion program which provides hands-on training for lab instructors.

ALPhA, in its role as advocate for instructional advanced physics laboratories, has arranged for the production and sale of single photon detectors at a cost significantly lower than for comparable research-quality detectors. This came about after it was determined that the high cost of the single photon detectors was the single largest expense incurred in setting up the single photon detection experiments that are emerging as a most exciting class of undergraduate advanced physics lab experiments. These detectors are being made available through ALPhA as a joint project between ALPhA, the AAPT, and Excelitas Corporation (formerly part of Perkin-Elmer). The detectors have specifications more than sufficient for the performance of the undergraduate laboratory experiments for which they are aimed, albiet slightly reduced compared with the industry standard detectors.Our efforts are having a huge impact on the number of students who will have access to this key, new generation of instructional labs.

The manufacturer, Excelitas, has put forth two conditions: (1) To ensure that these units are sold for instructional labs, each purchaser must be a member of ALPhA. The detectors carry labels specifying that these units belong in the undergraduate instructional labs and not in research labs. These educational detectors have reduced specs, notably a higher background dark count rate, compared to other models from the company. (2) Secondly, the manufacturer will not accept individual orders. ALPhA is to accept individual orders, and coordinate these into single group orders (15 institutions each ordering a set of four detectors).

Please note that ALPhA is only an intermediary for the purchase and assumes no liability or responsibilities with respect to these detectors; the manufacture, service, and warranty are provided by and the responsibility of Excelitas Corporation.

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