Imaging detector chip
The heart of our detectors is the Timepix chip. Timepix is an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) that was designed by CERN within the Medipix collaboration. The Timepix contains an array of 256×256 pixels. Each pixel contains its own electronics for processing the detected signal. That makes Timepix a versatile device that can be combined with variety of radiation sensors (Silicon, CdTe, Micro-Channel-Plates, …) and used for a large number of applications. ASI focuses on Timepix devices with Silicon sensors for X-ray imaging and charge particle tracking. Our devices are also used together with Micro-Channel-Plates (MCP) for ion imaging. Here you can find our technology poster.
The X-ray imaging and particle-tracking detector consists of a silicon sensor attached onto the Timepix readout chip (Fig. 1). The silicon sensor is a diode with common electrode on the top. The bottom electrode is divided into pixels 55×55µm2 and each pixel is connected via bump-bond to its own electronics in the readout chip. A simplified schema of the pixel electronics is in the image Fig. 2.
Fig.2a Explanation of pixel function – Counting mode
Fig.2b: Explanation of pixel function – Time-over-threshold mode.
Each pixel contains amplifier, comparator and counter. Pixel electronics can be operated in three different modes:
- counting mode,
- time-over-threshold mode,
- time-of-arrival mode.
Number of detected radiation quanta is recorded by the counter in the counting mode (Fig. 2a). The counter depth is 11810 counts and the pixel can handle count-rates up to 105 counts/s. Different energies of incoming radiation can be discriminated in this mode thanks to the adjustable energy threshold.
A pixel configured in the Time-Over-Threshold mode (TOT) works differently. Signals that are above the set threshold in TOT mode start the clock and the counter counts number of clocks until the signal is again under the threshold (Fig. 2b). This number is proportional to the detected charge and therefore also to the energy deposited by the radiation in the sensor. Thus, an energy spectrum of incoming radiation can be recorded for each single pixel. The TOT mode together with advanced data analysis techniques allows also achieving even sub-pixel spatial resolution for detection of heavy charged particles.
The last possible configuration is the Time-Of-Arrival mode where the pixel works as a single stop TDC (Time-to-Digital Converter). The maximum time interval that could be measured depends on the clock used. It is 118 µs for clock of 100 MHz.
The Timepix readout chip is interfaced with computer using electronics providing 1 Gb/s Ethernet connection. The electronics (shown in fig. 3) was adopted from the original design from NIKHEF and is now under the company’s own control.
Fig. 3: The 1Gb/s Ethernet interface between the Timepix sensor and PC.
The detector settings and data acquisition can be controlled with easy to use, yet powerful in house developed software “SoPhy”. The main features are:
- Detector setup and calibration tools.
- Image frame collection into binary or ASCII file formats.
- Run on Windows, Mac and Linux.
- Tools for data collection and processing:
- Parameter scan measurements (including external parameters controlling experimental setup).
- Per-pixel spectrum measurement.
- Filtering of measured radiation patterns (i.e. background suppression using pattern recognition).
- Beam-hardening calibrations.
- Ordered-Subset Expectation Maximization (OSEM) tomography reconstruction.
- Possibility to use SoPhy as a Matlab toolbox.
Fig. 4: Screenshot of the detector control software SoPhy.
We provide also drivers for EPICS data acquisition systems and libraries to integrate the detector into custom DAQ systems are provided too. The libraries support also all three major operating systems (Windows, Linux, Mac OS X).