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For an application in high-performance mass spectrometry we adapted our recent design of a fast microchannel plate detector such that the signal output when registering a single particle is realized via optical impulses which are then forwarded to the data acquisition system. The charge impulse collected at the anode of the detector is converted to a light impulse using a vertical cavity surface emitting laser diode. Such an assembly has the advantage that the electrical circuitry at the anode is very small and thus high signal quality is achieved even in the gigahertz frequency range. Furthermore, such a detector can easily be operated at high electric potentials without the need for capacitive signal coupling. © 2001 American Institute of Physics.