A versatile and simple approach to the design and fabrication of curved-focal-plane arrays of silicon-based photodetectors is being developed. This approach is an alternative to the one described in "Curved Focal-Plane Arrays Using Back-Illuminated High-Purity Photodetectors" (NPO-30566), NASA Tech Briefs, Vol. 27, No. 10 (October 2003), page 10a.

As in the cited prior article, 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 (in this case, an array of photodetectors) conform to a curved focal surface, instead of designing the optics to project an image onto a flat focal surface. There is biological precedent for curved-focal-surface designs: retinas - the image sensors in eyes - conform to the naturally curved focal surfaces of eye lenses.

The present approach is applicable to both front-side- and back-side-illuminated, membrane photodetector arrays and is being demonstrated on charge-coupled devices (CCDs). The very-large-scale integrated (VLSI) circuitry of such a CCD or other array is fabricated on the front side of a silicon substrate, then the CCD substrate is attached temporarily to a second substrate for mechanical support, then material is removed from the back to obtain the CCD membrane, which typically has a thickness between 10 and 20 µm. In the case of a CCD designed to operate in back-surface illumination, delta doping can be performed after thinning to enhance the sensitivity. This approach is independent of the design and method of fabrication of the front-side VLSI circuitry and does not involve any processing of a curved silicon substrate.

In this approach, a third substrate would be prepared by polishing one of its surfaces to a required focal-surface curvature. A CCD membrane fabricated as described above would be pressed against, deformed into conformity with, and bonded to, the curved surface. The technique used to press and bond the CCD membrane would depend on the nature of the supporting material (see figure). For example, if the third substrate were made of quartz frit, the substrate would be prepared by suffusing it with epoxy. Then one would take advantage of the porosity of the frit by applying a partial vacuum to the opposite surface of the frit, causing atmospheric pressure to push the CCD membrane against the curved surface. The curing of the epoxy would bond the CCD membrane to the curved surface.

Alternatively, if the third substrate were made of a nonporous material, the curved substrate surface would be prepared by coating it with a wax or an uncured epoxy. The CCD membrane would be pressed against the coated, curved surface by use of a suitably pressurized balloon. The CCD membrane would then become bonded to the curved surface by curing of the epoxy or freezing of the wax.

This work was done by Shouleh Nikzad and Todd Jones of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to

Intellectual Assets Office
Mail Stop 202-233
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena, CA 91109
(818) 354-2240
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Refer to NPO-30580.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Curved-Focal-Plane Arrays Using Deformed-Membrane Photodetectors

(reference NPO30580) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

Don't have an account? Sign up here.

Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the March, 2004 issue of Photonics Tech Briefs Magazine.

Read more articles from the archives here.