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Ultrasensitive photon hunter
Date:11/7/2012

Fast and ultrasensitive optical systems are gaining increasing significance and are being used in a diverse range of applications, for example, in imaging procedures in the fields of medicine and biology, in astronomy and in safety engineering for the automotive industry. Frequently the challenge lies in being able to record high-quality images under extremely low light conditions. Modern photo detectors for image capture typically reach their limits here. They frequently work with light-sensitive electronic components that are based on CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) or CCD (Charge-Coupled Device) image sensors. The problem is that neither the latest CMOS nor CCD systems can simultaneously guarantee a swift and highly-sensitive high quality image recording if there is a paucity of photons to read.

In cooperation with the partners of the MiSPiA project consortium the Fraunhofer Institute for Microelectronic Circuits and Systems IMS in Duisburg has now advanced the development of CMOS technology and introduced an ultrasensitive image sensor with this technology, based on Single Photon Avalanche Photodiodes (SPAD). Its pixel structure can count individual photons within a few picoseconds, and is therefore a thousand times faster than comparable models. Since each individual photon is taken into consideration camera images are also possible with extremely weak light sources.

Camera installed directly on chip

To achieve this the new image sensor uses the "internal avalanche breakdown effect" a photoelectric amplification effect. The number of "avalanche breakdowns" corresponds to the number of photons that the pixels hit. In order to count these events, each of the sensor's pixels comes with very precise digital counters. At the same time, the scientists have applied microlenses to each sensor chip, which focus the incoming beam in each pixel onto the photoactive surface. Another advantage is that processing the di
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Contact: Dr.-Ing. Daniel Durini
daniel.durini@ims.fraunhofer.de
49-203-378-3217
Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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