Photon efficient, high resolution, time resolved SPAD image sensors for fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
FLIM is branch of microscopy mainly used in biology which is quickly improving thanks to a rapid enhancement of instrumentation and techniques enabled by new sensors. In FLIM, the most precise method of measuring fluorescent decays is called TCSPC. High voltage PMT detection devices together with costly and bulky optical setups which scan the sample are usually required in TCSPC instrumentation. SPADs have enabled a big improvement in TCSPC measurement setup, providing a CMOS compatible device which can be designed in wide arrays format. However, sensors providing in-pixel TCSPC do not scale in size and in large array like the time-gated SPAD pixel sensors do. Time-gated pixels offer a less precise lifetime estimation, discarding any photon information outside a given time window, but this loss in photon-efficiency is offset by gains in pixel size. This work is aimed at the development of a wide field TCSPC sensor with a pixel size and fill factor able to reduce the cost of such devices and to obtain a high resolution time-resolved fluorescence image in the shortest time possible. The study focuses on SPAD and pixel design required to maximise the fill factor in sub 10 μm pixel pitch. Multiple pixel designs are proposed in order to reduce pixel area and so enable affordable wide array TCSPC systems. The first proposed pixel performs the CMM lifetime estimation in order to reduce the frame rate needed to stream the data out of the SPAD array. This pixel is designed in a 10 μm pitch and attains with the most aggressive design a fill factor of 10:17 %. A second design proposes an analogue TCSPC which consists in a S/H TAC circuitry. This simpler pixel can achieve a higher fill factor of 19:63% as well as smaller pitch of 8 μm thanks to the adoption of SPAD n-well and electronics area sharing. This last design is implemented in a 320 x 256 SPAD array in which is included part of a novel ADC aimed at reduction of the processing time required to build a TCSPC histogram. A more conventional analogue readout is used to evaluate the pixel performance as well as a more fine TCSPC histogram. The device was used to measure the fluorescence lifetime of green micro-spheres while the 2b flash ADC is used to demonstrate rapid resolution and separation of two different fluorescence decays.