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Optical sensing is used in a wide range of applications, such as low-light detection systems in cars and cameras. Most photodetectors have a limited spectral range and can only detect a narrow range of wavelengths. Gong et al. (p. 1665, published online 13 August) developed polymer photodetectors with extremely broad spectral response and exceptionally high sensitivity that can exceed the response of an inorganic semiconductor detector at liquid helium temperature. A key aspect in the device design is the inclusion of blocking layers to reduce significantly the dark current or noise in the devices.
Sensing from the ultraviolet-visible to the infrared is critical for a variety of industrial and scientific applications. Today, gallium nitride–, silicon-, and indium gallium arsenide–-based detectors are used for different sub-bands within the ultraviolet to near-infrared wavelength range. We demonstrate polymer photodetectors with broad spectral response (300 to 1450 nanometers) fabricated by using a small-band-gap semiconducting polymer blended with a fullerene derivative. Operating at room temperature, the polymer photodetectors exhibit detectivities greater than 1012 cm Hz1/2/W and a linear dynamic range over 100 decibels. The self-assembled nanomorphology and device architecture result in high photodetectivity over this wide spectral range and reduce the dark current (and noise) to values well below dark currents obtained in narrow-band photodetectors made with inorganic semiconductors.