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The photodetection of ultrashort optical pulse trains for low noise microwave signal generation



Franklyn Quinlan


Electrical signals derived from optical sources have achieved record-low levels of phase noise, and have demonstrated the highest frequency stability yet achieved in the microwave domain. Attaining such ultrastable phase and frequency performance requires high-fidelity optical-to-electrical conversion, typically performed via a high-speed photodiode. This paper reviews characteristics of the direct photodetection of optical pulses for the intent of generating high power, low phase noise microwave signals from optical sources. The two most popular types of photodiode detectors used for low noise microwave generation are discussed in terms of electrical pulse characteristics, achievable microwave power, and photodetector nonlinearities. Noise sources inherent to photodetection, such as shot noise, flicker noise, and photocarrier scattering are reviewed, and their impact on microwave phase fidelity is discussed. General guidelines for attaining the lowest noise possible from photodetection that balances power saturation, optical amplification, and amplitude-to-phase conversion, are also presented.
Laser and Photonics Reviews


Optical physics, time and frequency, microwave signal, signal generation


Quinlan, F. (2023), The photodetection of ultrashort optical pulse trains for low noise microwave signal generation, Laser and Photonics Reviews, [online],, (Accessed June 17, 2024)


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Created October 15, 2023, Updated June 7, 2024