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Rather than buying a 4K-10K single photon detector, I was wondering if there were simple ways to build a simple single photon detector, of decent quality...

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Perhaps you may want to talk to Jeremy O'Brien! –  Ali Jul 25 '13 at 0:47
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At ionizing energies, you build a Geiger-Müller tube. At optical or UV energies a PMT or MCP if you can tolerate the quantum efficiency, or use a solid state detector to get a better QE. The real problem here is that you have not specified the design task nearly well enough to get an answer. –  dmckee Jul 25 '13 at 2:37

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Geiger mode Avalanche Photo Diodes will do single photon counting at a few MHz with a little cooling.

20 years ago they were about $300 each from RCA with a fibre pigtail included ( see http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Publication/2600562/a-new-silicon-avalanche-photodiode-photon-counting-detector-for-astronomy for a simple counting/drive circuit)

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