Sergio Cova is full professor of Electronics since 1977 at Politecnico di Milano (Italy), where in 1962 he had received a doctor degree in Nuclear Engineering. He taught courses at other Italian universities (University of Parma, University of Bari). Fellow of the IEEE in 1992 and Life Fellow since 2000, he served in committees of IEEE North Italy Section and in the AEI (Associazione Elettronica Italiana) Milano Section Board. He supported technical development and cultural growth in the industry, serving as Chairman of the Continuing Education Program at Politecnico di Milano (1979-1998). He was appointed in 2002 by the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR) in the National Consulting Committee for the 6th Frame Program for European Research. He was in the editorial board of “The Review of Scientific Instruments” (1995-1997) and "Alta Frequenza" (1985-1996). He is coauthor of over 180 papers in international journals and conferences, four U.S. and European patents and one Italian patent.
He has given contributions to physics and technology of semiconductor detectors of optical and ionizing radiations; microelectronics; electronic and optoelectronic instrumentation. He collaborated with researchers in other fields (physics, astronomy, biochemistry and molecular biology) carrying out interdisciplinary work and devising new dedicated techniques and devices. In nuclear electronics he brought innovations to amplifiers for high-resolution spectroscopy and to fast timing circuits. In electronic instrumentation in the early years ’70 (long before the advent of microcomputers and DSP circuits) he devised and demonstrated a digital-signal processing method for lock-in detection of analog signals.
In single-photon counting he has been carrying out a pioneering role, first working with photomultiplier tubes and then developing solid-state detectors, called single-photon avalanche diodes SPAD. He invented in 1975 the active-quenching circuit AQC, which opened the way to the application of SPADs by fully exploiting their performance up to very high counting rate. He has been leading a research group where brilliant young scientists grew up working on SPADs and related subjects. AQCs were developed in successive generations, achieving in 1995 monolithic integrated implementation and making possible complete photon-counting modules on a chip. New planar epitaxial silicon SPAD devices with picosecond timing capability were developed in successive generations, working on CMOS compatible technologies in collaboration with silicon foundries in industry and academy. The extension of single-photon techniques to the infrared spectral range was pioneered from 1992 with Germanium and InGaAs/InP devices. The group contributed to various applications of photon-counting detectors, such as: DNA and protein analysis and single-molecule studies by fluorescence measurements; optical fiber and laser characterization; adaptive optics systems in telescopes; non-invasive testing of ULSI circuits; and others.
In 2005 S. Cova and colleagues established “Micro-Photon-Devices” MPD, a Politecnico di Milano spin-off company for producing and making widely available photon counting micro-detectors developed in the research.