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Hamamatsu Photonics K.K.: Photomultiplier Tubes


Hamamatsu Photonics was established in 1953 as Hamamatsu TV Co., Ltd. Today, it is primarily a research and development company that specializes in the application of photonics in diverse fields including medicine, information and communications, and physiology.

Its core products include semiconductor lasers, photodiodes, photomultiplier tubes (PMTs), and light sources for analysis. In particular, Hamamatsu Photonics is the world leader in the manufacturing and sales of PMTs, for which it accounts for 90% of the global market.

Of all the photosensors and related equipment produced by Hamamatsu Photonics, its range of photomultiplier tubes boasts outstanding sensitivity throughout, as well as multiple other advantages including high-speed response time. Hamamatsu PMTs are widely used in leading research facilities, most notably in the Kamiokande and Super-Kamiokande.

The most prominent researcher to have performed research at the Kamiokande and Super-Kamiokande is Professor Masatoshi Koshiba, who is also a founder of these facilities. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002. The PMTs developed by Hamamatsu Photonics were crucial in the observation of Cherenkov radiation, which enabled Professor Koshiba to detect neutrinos. Understandably this prompted significant global interest in the company’s products. In 2015, Dr. Takaaki Kajita, a student of Professor Koshiba, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering the mass of a neutrino. Dr. Kajita’s discovery was also made from observations at the Super Kamiokande.
This technology also played a pivotal role in 2013, when the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Dr. Peter Higgs, who hypothesized the existence of the Higgs Boson. Although he made this hypothesis in 1964, it was between 2011 and early 2013 that its existence was proved, when a “new particle” was captured at the CERN LHC in Switzerland and it was shown to be the Higgs Boson with an extremely high probability. (If this particle was not the Higgs Boson, the chance of it appearing by coincidence in the experiment would be as low as 0.00003%. In other words, given that this sort of thing almost never occurs by coincidence, the particle observed is almost unmistakably the Higgs Boson.)
Part of the equipment carrying out this experiment at the CERN LHC at this time was a photomultiplier and avalanche photodiode supplied by Hamamatsu Photonics. Both devices are at the heart of this experiment, and worked to discover the Higgs Boson and allow physicists to witness the moment of a great scientific achievement.
The reason CERN commissioned these devices was that there was no other company able to produce goods to the required standard, and the company persevered over three years through great challenges to complete the task. At the front entrance of the CERN research facility there is a commemorative plate bearing the name Hamamatsu, to recognize this contribution.

The company is continuing to contribute to the discoveries of the century, unraveling the mysteries of nature and rewriting modern physics textbooks.

At present, PMTs are used in diverse fields, including medicine, academic research, and industry, where highly precise photometric capabilities are required. In the medical field, for example, PMTs are used in clinical examination equipment (blood tests, biochemical examinations) as well as nuclear medical imaging (gamma camera, positron CT).

PMTs are used widely elsewhere. They are used in analytical equipment including spectrophotometers and environmental measurement equipment. In the field of academic research, they are used in satellites and high-energy physics experiments. In the measurement field, PMTs are used in oil well logging and radiometry. PMTs are also used in the optical field, for laser scanning confocal microscopy (LSCM). In the semiconductor field, PMTs are used for wafer surface inspection, plasma process monitoring, and thickness measurement. PMTs are also used in mail sorters and agricultural sorters.

In addition to PMTs, Hamamatsu Photonics is also involved in diverse other fields, information and communications, health care, and industry. Of particular note are the company’s capabilities in holographic technology, reflectance diffuse optical tomography, and stealth dicing technology.

Holographic technology records and plays back the amplitudes and phase distributions of light. It is currently being used to advance the capabilities in 3D animated image display technology and 3D still image display technology. It is also expected to be key to the development of greater capacity through the use of interfaces.

Reflectance diffuse optical tomography uses near infrared light, which has minimal impact of the human body, to carry out measurements without constraining the human body. This technology is expected to be extremely useful in the observation of the human body in its natural state, and in applications that provide an alternative to X-ray mammography.

Stealth dicing technology is a laser cutting technology in which the inside of a silicon wafer is irradiated with a laser at any desired depth to create a modification layer. Stress is then applied externally, by tape expansion for example, producing cracks in the silicon wafer surface and minimizing the dicing size.

This brief outlines makes clear the fact that Hamamatsu Photonics is a world-leader in photoindustrial companies, with a strong record of developing cutting-edge technology. It even has its own graduate school, the Graduate School for the Creation of New Photonics Industry. Hamamatsu Photonics has a truly global outlook, as well as the innovative approach and core technology needed to keep it at the front of the world market. It is a shining example of the kind of visionary company found in Japan today.

May 6, 2011 / October 14, 2015 (revised)
About the author
Eriko Kinashi is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON
( Hamamatsu Photonics K.K. )