Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) collaborated with the Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS) to design a modular and scalable tile of innovative digital photodetectors called Photon-to-Digital Converters (PDC) and the required subsystems to demonstrate the feasibility of large area single-photon detectors to support high-resolution, depth-of-interaction, fast neutron radiography based on scintillation detectors. The goal is to demonstrate the advantages of using PDC over conventional Silicon Photomultiplier (SiPM) for neutron imaging systems.
The basic building blocks of analog SiPM and PDC are Single-Photon Avalanche Photodiodes (SPAD). The main difference between conventional SiPMs and PDCs, is in the fact that analog SiPMs sum the charge produced by individual SPAD passively, while in PDCs each SPAD is read out individually by an active electronic circuit. Hence, PDCs provide a direct photon-to-bit conversion where a logic “1” means that there was a detection in a given SPAD. Conversely, an analog SiPM requires a sophisticated preamplifier (current amplifiers or transimpedance amplifier) followed by a shaping amplifier and an analog-to-digital converter. Moreover, since the charge from each SPAD varies slightly, the passive sum of the analog SiPM will have signal fluctuations for the same amount of photon detected. This is one of many issues that is completely eliminated by individual one-to-one SPAD read out in PDCs.
The large area required for scintillator readouts for neutron imaging is such that the output capacitance of a large area of SiPM arrays is very high. This creates a burden on the signal-to-noise optimization with respect to the power budget. For PDC, the power consumption is dictated by rate of the incident photon flux, or in photon-starved environments, the dark noise rate of the SPAD array. In other words, the power consumption in the absence of events is extremely low. Hence, the power consumption of a PDC read out system is much lower than its analog counterpart. Further, the large SiPM capacitance may introduce signal distortions on the scintillator fast rise or decay time with undesired effects on timing and pulse shape discrimination. The problem is absent in PDCs, as their readout is independent on device capacitance.
UdeS is the world leader in 3D vertical integration of frontside illuminated SPAD arrays over CMOS readouts. These capabilities allow future production of “3D PDC” with maximum photosensitive fill factor and electronic functionalities tailored to the application. UdeS' vast knowledge of SPADs and CMOS design made the team an ideal collaborator in the development of large area high-resolution fast neutron radiography.