A new generation of imaging detectors with low-noise and high-speed capabilities may transform imaging applications on NASA space missions, impact biomedical imaging and aid in homeland defence.
Rochester Institute of Technology and the
According to RIT, the new imaging sensor, which will function at wavelengths spanning from ultraviolet to mid-infrared, will be able to operate reliably in the harsh radiation environment of space.
‘These benefits will lead to lower mission cost and greater scientific productivity,’ said Donald Figer, director of the Rochester Imaging Detector Laboratory at RIT and lead scientist on the project. The team also includes Zoran Ninkov from RIT and Zeljko Ignjatovic from the
The new detector is based on a technology created by Ignjatovic and his colleagues at the
Ignjatovic’s chip integrates an analogue-to-digital converter at each pixel in a sensor. ‘Previous attempts to do this on-pixel conversion have required far too many transistors, leaving too little area to collect light,’ says Ignjatovic.
‘First tests on the chip show that it uses 50 times less power than the industry’s current best, which is especially helpful on deep-space missions where energy is precious.’
Despite the chip’s low power consumption and sensitivity, it is surprisingly resistant to the radiation noise of space. Since each pixel converts the signal from analogue to digital before moving it off-chip, the signal is digital and clear before it has a chance to travel and degrade.
Coatings applied to the light sensitive portion of the sensor will optimize the technology and the ability to detect a range of wavelengths. RIT’s Ninkov will explore techniques for bonding the coating to the delicate circuit using industrial microwave ovens. Further testing of the overall system will determine how the sensors hold up in cryogenic environments where the device is cooled to very low temperatures, imitating conditions in space.
In addition to astronomical applications, the detector could improve biomedical imaging devices used in emergency rooms or on battlefields. The technology could aid in homeland security surveillance efforts to watch the