Active Pixel Sensor Architectures for High Resolution Large Area Digital Imaging
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This work extends the technology of amorphous silicon (a-Si) thin film transistors (TFTs) from traditional switching applications to on-pixel signal amplification for large area digital imaging and in particular, is aimed towards enabling emerging low noise, high resolution and high frame rate medical diagnostic imaging modalities such as digital tomosynthesis. A two transistor (2T) pixel amplifier circuit based on a novel charge-gate thin film transistor (TFT) device architecture is introduced to shrink the TFT based pixel readout circuit size and complexity and thus, improve the imaging array resolution and reliability of the TFT fabrication process. The high resolution pixel amplifier results in improved electrical performance such as on-pixel amplification gain, input referred noise and faster readouts. In this research, a charge-gated TFT that operates as both a switched amplifier and driver is used to replace two transistors (the addressing switch and the amplifier transistor) of previously reported three transistor (3T) APS pixel circuits.. In addition to enabling smaller pixels, the proposed 2T pixel amplifier results in better signal-to-noise (SNR) by removing the large flicker noise source associated with the switched TFT and increased pixel transconductance gain since the large ON-state resistance of the switched TFT is removed from the source of the amplifier TFT. Alternate configurations of 2T APS architectures based on source or drain switched TFTs are also investigated, compared, and contrasted to the gate switched architecture using charge-gated TFT. A new driving scheme based on multiple row resetting is introduced which combined with the on-pixel gain of the APS, offers considerable improvements in imaging frame rates beyond those feasible for PPS based pixels. The novel developed 2T APS architectures is implemented in single pixel test structures and in 88 pixel test arrays with a pixel pitch of 100 µm. The devices were fabricated using an in-house developed top-gate TFT fabrication process. Measured characteristics of the test devices confirm the performance expectations of the 2T architecture design. Based on parameters extracted from fabricated TFTs, the input referred noise is calculated, and the instability in pixel transconductance gain over prolonged operation tine is projected for different imaging frame rates. 2T APS test arrays were packaged and integrated with an amorphous selenium (a-Se) direct x-ray detector, and the x-ray response of the a-Se detector integrated with the novel readout circuit was evaluated. The special features of the APS such as non-destructive readout and voltage programmable on-pixel gain control are verified. The research presented in this thesis extends amorphous silicon pixel amplifier technology into the area of high density pixel arrays such as large area medical X-ray imagers for digital mammography tomosynthesis. It underscores novel device and circuit design as an effective method of overcoming the inherent shortcomings of the a-Si material . Although the developed device and circuit ideas were implemented and tested using a-Si TFTs, the scope of the device and circuit designs is not limited to amorphous silicon technology and has the potential to be applied to more mainstream technologies, for example, in CMOS active pixel sensor (APS) based digital cameras.