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In a photomultiplier or Phototube, a photocathode is a negatively charged electrode coated with a photosensitive compound. When this is struck by light, electrons are emitted due to the photoelectric effect.

Although a plain metallic cathode will exhibit photoelectric properties, the specialized coating greatly increases the effect. A photocathode usually consists of alkali metals with very low work functions.

The coating releases electrons much more readily than the underlying metal, allowing it to detect the low-energy photons in infrared radiation. The lens transmits the radiation from the object being viewed to a layer of coated glass. The photons strike the metal surface and transfer electrons to its rear side. The freed electrons are then collected to produce the final image.

Photocathode materials

  1. Ag-O-Cs, also called S-1. This was the first compound photocathode material, developed in 1929. Sensitivity from 300 mm to 1200 nm. Since Ag-O-Cs has a higher dark current than more modern materials photomultiplier tubes with this photocathode material are nowadays used only in the infrared region with cooling.
  2. Sb-Cs (antimony-cesium) has a spectral response from UV to visible and is mainly used in reflection-mode photocathodes.
  3. Bialkali (antimony-rubidium-cesium Sb-Rb-Cs, antimony-potassium-cesium Sb-K-Cs). Spectral response range similar to the Sb-Cs photocathode, but with higher sensitivity and lower dark current than Sb-Cs. They have sensitivity well matched to the most common scintillator materials and so are frequently used for ionizing radiation measurement in scintillation counters.
  4. High temperature bialkali or low noise bialkali (sodium-potassium-antimony, Na-K-Sb). This material is often used in oil well logging since it can withstand temperatures up to 175 °C. At room temperatures, this photocathode operates with very low dark current, making it ideal for use in photon counting applications.
  5. Multialkali (sodium-potassium-antimony-cesium, Na-K-Sb-Cs). The multialkali photocathode has a wide spectral response from the ultraviolet to near infrared region. It is widely used for broad-band spectrophotometers and photon counting applications. The long wavelength response can be extended to 930 nm by a special photocathode activation processing.
  6. GaAs (gallium(II) arsenide). This photocathode material covers a wider spectral response range than multialkali, from ultraviolet to 930 nm.
  7. InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide). Extended sensitivity in the infrared range compared to GaAs. Moreover, in the range between 900 mm and 1000 nm, InGaAs has a much better signal to noise ratio than Ag-O-Cs. With special manufacturing techniques this photocathode can operate up to 1700 nm.
  8. Cs-Te, Cs-I (cesium-telluride, cesium-iodide). These materials are sensitive to vacuum UV and UV rays but not to visible light and are therefore referred to as solar blind. Cs-Te is insensitive to wavelengths longer than 320 nm, and Cs-I to those longer than 200 nm.



  • Photomultiplier Tubes Basics and Applications from Hamamatsu Photonics K.K.
  • PHOTOMULTIPLIER TUBES : Principles & applications from PHOTONIS
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Photocathode". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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