Challenges and Solutions to Next-Generation Single-Photon Imagers

Detecting and counting single photons is useful in an increasingly large number of applications. Most applications require large formats, approaching and even far exceeding 1 megapixel. In this thesis, we look at the challenges of massively parallel photon-counting cameras from all performance angles. The thesis deals with a number of performance issues that emerge when the number of pixels exceeds about 1/4 of megapixels, proposing characterization techniques and solutions to mitigate performance degradation and non-uniformity. Two cameras were created to validate the proposed techniques. The first camera, SwissSPAD, comprises an array of 512 x 128 SPAD pixels, each with a one-bit memory and a gating mechanism to achieve 5ns high precision time windows with high uniformity across the array. With a massively parallel readout of over 10 Gigabit/s and positioning of the integration time window accurate to the pico-second range, fluorescence lifetime imaging and fluorescence correlation spectroscopy imaging achieve a speedup of several orders of magnitude while ensuring high precision in the measurements. Other possible applications include wide-field time-of-flight imaging and the generation of quantum random numbers at highest bit-rates. Lately super-resolution microscopy techniques have also used SwissSPAD. The second camera, LinoSPAD, takes the concepts of SwissSPAD one step further by moving even more 'intelligence' to the FPGA and reducing the sensor complexity to the bare minimum. This allows focusing the optimization of the sensor on the most important metrics of photon efficiency and fill factor. As such, the sensor consists of one line of SPADs that have a direct connection each to the FPGA where complex photon processing algorithms can be implemented. As a demonstration of the capabilities of current lowcost FPGAs we implemented an array of time-to-digital converters that can handle up to 8.5 billion photons per second, measuring each one of them and accounting them in high precision histograms. Using simple laser diodes and a circuit to generate light pulses in the picosecond range, we demonstrate a ubiquitous 3D time-of-flight sensor. The thesis intends to be a first step towards achieving the world's first megapixel SPAD camera, which, we believe, is in grasp thanks to the architectural and circuital techniques proposed in this thesis. In addition, we believe that the applications proposed in this thesis offer a wide variety of uses of the sensors presented in this thesis and in future ones to come.

    Keywords: CMOS ; SPAD ; Pixel ; Camera ; FPGA ; TDC ; picosecond phenomena ; Photons

    Thèse École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne EPFL, n° 7136 (2016)
    Programme doctoral Génie électrique
    Faculté des sciences et techniques de l'ingénieur
    Institut de génie électrique et électronique
    Jury: Prof. Jean-Philippe Thiran (président) ; Prof. Edoardo Charbon (directeur de thèse) ; Dr Rasmus Ischebeck, Prof. Jörg Langowski, Dr Xavier Michalet (rapporteurs)

    Public defense: 2016-8-19


    Record created on 2016-08-02, modified on 2016-08-09


  • Thesis submitted - Forthcoming publication

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