Curved-focal-plane arrays of back-illuminated silicon-based photodetectors are being developed. The basic idea is to improve the performance of an imaging instrument and simplify the optics needed to obtain a given level of performance by making an image sensor (e.g., a photographic film or an array of photodetectors) conform to a curved focal surface, instead of following the customary practice of designing the optics to project an image onto a flat focal surface. Eyes are natural examples of optical systems that have curved focal surfaces on which image sensors (retinas) are located.
One prior approach to implementation of this concept involves the use of curved-input-surface microchannel plates as arrays of photodetectors. In comparison with microchannel plates, these curved-focal-plane arrays would weigh less, operate at much lower voltages, and consume less power. It should also be possible to fabricate the proposed devices at lower cost.
It would be possible to fabricate an array of photodetectors and readout circuitry in the form of a very-large-scale integrated (VLSI) circuit on a curved focal surface, but it would be difficult and expensive to do so. In a simple and inexpensive alternate approach, a device (see figure) would have (1) a curved back surface, onto which light would be focused; and (2) a flat front surface, on which VLSI circuitry would be fabricated by techniques that are well established for flat surfaces.
The device would be made from ultrapure silicon, in which it is possible to form high-resistivity, thick photodetectors that are fully depleted through their thicknesses. (As used here, "thick" means having a thickness between a fraction of a millimeter and a few millimeters.) The back surface would be polished to the curvature of the focal surface of the intended application. To enable the collection of charge carriers excited by photons near the back surface or in the bulk of the device, it would be necessary to form a transparent or semitransparent back-surface electrode, possibly by delta doping. [Delta doping is so named because its density-vs.-depth characteristic is reminiscent of the Dirac d function (impulse function): the dopant is concentrated in a very thin layer - nominally, a single atomic layer.]
This work was done by Shouleh Nikzad and Michael E. Hoenk of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
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