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Novel High-Res IR Camera Announced
Dec 2010
EVANSTON, Ill., Dec. 14, 2010 — Researchers at Northwestern University have created a new infrared camera based on Type II InAs/GaSb superlattices that produces much higher-resolution images than previous infrared cameras.

Image of graduate student of Northwestern University’s Center for Quantum Devices as taken with the first long-wave infrared focal plane array based on Type II superlattices.

Created by Manijeh Razeghi and researchers in the Center for Quantum Devices in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, the long-wave infrared focal plane array camera provides a 16-fold increase in the number of pixels in the image and can provide infrared images in the dark. Their results were recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters.

The goal of the research is to offer a better alternative to existing long-wave infrared radiation (LWIR) cameras, which, with their thermal imaging capabilities, are used in everything from electrical inspections to security and nighttime surveillance. Current LWIR cameras are based on mercury cadmium telluride (MCT) materials, but the Type II superlattice is mercury-free, is more robust, and can be deposited with better uniformity. This will significantly increase yield and reduce camera cost once the technology goes commercial.

“Not only does it prove Type II superlattices as a viable alternative to MCT, but also it widens the field of applications for infrared cameras,” said Razeghi, the Walter P. Murphy Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Northwestern. “The importance of this work is similar to that of the realization of megapixel visible cameras in the last decade, which shaped the world’s favor for digital cameras.”

Type II InAs/GaSb superlattices were first invented by Nobel laureate Leo Esaki in the 1970s, but it has taken time for the material to mature. The LWIR detection mechanism relies on quantum size effects in a completely artificial layer sequence to tune the wavelength sensitivity and demonstrate high efficiency. Razeghi’s group has been instrumental in pioneering the recent development of Type II superlattices, having demonstrated the world’s first Type II-based 256 × 256 IR camera just a few years ago.

“Type II is a very interesting and promising new material for infrared detection,” Razeghi said. “Everything is there to support its future: the beautiful physics, the practicality of experimental realization of the material. It has just taken time to prove itself, but now the time has come.”

Tremendous obstacles, especially in the fabrication process, had to be overcome to ensure that the 1024 × 1024 Type II superlattice-based camera would have equivalent performance as the previously realized 320 × 256 cameras. Operating at 81 K, the new camera can collect 78 percent of the light and is capable of showing temperature differences as small as 0.02 °C.

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1. In optics, the ability of a lens system to reproduce the points, lines and surfaces in an object as separate entities in the image. 2. The minimum adjustment increment effectively achievable by a positioning mechanism. 3. In image processing, the accuracy with which brightness, spatial parameters and frame rate are divided into discrete levels.
thermal imaging
The process of producing a visible two-dimensional image of a scene that is dependent on differences in thermal or infrared radiation from the scene reaching the aperture of the imaging device.
AmericasApplied Physics LetterscamerasCenter for Quantum DevicesdefenseGaSbHgCdTeIllinoisimagingInAsinfrared camerasLeo Esakilong-wave infrared focal plane array camerasLWIRManijeh RazeghiMcCormick School of Engineering and Applied ScienceMCTmercury cadmium tellurideNorthwestern UniversityParitosh ManurkarResearch & Technologyresolutionthermal imagingtype-II superlattices

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