High-Speed, High-Resolution Time-to-Digital Conversion

This innovation is a series of time-tag pulses from a photomultiplier tube, featuring short time interval between pulses (e.g., 2.5 ns). Using the previous art, dead time between pulses is too long, or too much hardware is required, including a very-high-speed demultiplexer. A faster method is needed.

The goal of this work is to provide circuits to time-tag pulses that arrive at a high rate using the hardwired logic in an FPGA — specifically the carry chain — to create what is (in effect) an analog delay line. High-speed pulses travel down the chain in a “wave.” For instance, a pulse train has been demonstrated from a 1- GHz source reliably traveling down the carry chain. The size of the carry chain is over 10 ns in the time domain. Thus, multiple pulses will travel down the carry chain in a wave simultaneously. A register clocked by a low-skew clock takes a “snapshot” of the wave. Relatively simple logic can extract the pulses from the snapshot picture by detecting the transitions between logic states.

The propagation delay of CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) logic circuits will differ and/or change as a result of temperature, voltage, age, radiation, and manufacturing variances. The time-to-digital conversion circuits can be calibrated with test signals, or the changes can be nulled by a separate on-die calibration channel, in a closed loop circuit.

This work was done by Richard Katz, Igor Kleyner, and Rafael Garcia of Goddard Space Flight Center. For further information, contact the Goddard Innovative Partnerships Office at (301) 286-5810. GSC-16242-1