New generation of superlattice cameras add more 'color' to night vision

October 19, 2011

Recent breakthroughs have enabled scientists from the Northwestern University's Center for Quantum Devices to build cameras that can see more than one optical waveband or "color" in the dark. The semiconducting material used in the cameras - called type-II superlattices - can be tuned to absorb a wide range of infrared wavelengths, and now, a number of distinct infrared bands at the same time.

The idea of capturing light simultaneously at different wavelengths isn't new. Digital cameras in the visible spectrum are commonly equipped with detectors that sense red, green, and blue light to replicate a vast majority of colors perceived by the human eye. Multi-color detection in the infrared spectrum, however, offers unique functionalities beyond color representation. The resonant frequencies of compounds can often be found in this spectral range, which means that chemical spectroscopy can be relayed in images real-time.

"When coupled with image-processing algorithms performed on multiple wavebands, the amount of information rendered in a particular scene is tremendous," said Manijeh Razeghi, Walter P. Murphy Professor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the McCormick School of Engineering and director of the Center for Quantum Devices.

Razeghi's group engineered the detection energies on the cameras to be extremely narrow, close to one-tenth of an electron volt, in what is known as the long-wave infrared window. Creating the cameras was difficult, however, because the light-absorbing layers are prone to parasitic effects. Furthermore, the detectors were designed to be stacked one on top of another, which provided spatially coincident pixel registration but added significantly to the growth and fabrication challenges. Nevertheless, a dual-band long-wave infrared 320-by-256 sized type-II superlattice camera was demonstrated for the first time in the world, the results of which were published in the July 2011 issue of Optics Letters.

Such infrared photon cameras based on another material called HgCdTe were used in disaster relief in March 2011 when a catastrophic tsunami damaged Japans' nuclear reactors. These cameras provided accurate temperature information about the reactors from unmanned aerial vehicles, providing officials the information they needed to orchestrate cooling efforts and prevent nuclear meltdown.

HgCdTe, however, is considered to be an expensive technology in the long-wave infrared due to its poor spectral uniformity and therefore yield - areas in which type-II superlattices may prove more efficient.

"Type-II superlattices can be grown uniformly even at very long-wavelengths because its energy gap is determined by the alternating InAs and GaSb quantum well thicknesses, rather than its composition as is the case with HgCdTe," Razeghi said. The high-resolution multi-band type-II superlattice camera also offered very impressive performances, requiring only 0.5 milliseconds to capture a frame with temperature sensitivities as good as 0.015°C. "The high-performance, multi-functionality, and low cost offered by type-II superlattices truly make it an attractive infrared technology," she added.
-end-


Northwestern University

Related Engineering Articles from Brightsurf:

Re-engineering antibodies for COVID-19
Catholic University of America researcher uses 'in silico' analysis to fast-track passive immunity

Next frontier in bacterial engineering
A new technique overcomes a serious hurdle in the field of bacterial design and engineering.

COVID-19 and the role of tissue engineering
Tissue engineering has a unique set of tools and technologies for developing preventive strategies, diagnostics, and treatments that can play an important role during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Engineering the meniscus
Damage to the meniscus is common, but there remains an unmet need for improved restorative therapies that can overcome poor healing in the avascular regions.

Artificially engineering the intestine
Short bowel syndrome is a debilitating condition with few treatment options, and these treatments have limited efficacy.

Reverse engineering the fireworks of life
An interdisciplinary team of Princeton researchers has successfully reverse engineered the components and sequence of events that lead to microtubule branching.

New method for engineering metabolic pathways
Two approaches provide a faster way to create enzymes and analyze their reactions, leading to the design of more complex molecules.

Engineering for high-speed devices
A research team from the University of Delaware has developed cutting-edge technology for photonics devices that could enable faster communications between phones and computers.

Breakthrough in blood vessel engineering
Growing functional blood vessel networks is no easy task. Previously, other groups have made networks that span millimeters in size.

Next-gen batteries possible with new engineering approach
Dramatically longer-lasting, faster-charging and safer lithium metal batteries may be possible, according to Penn State research, recently published in Nature Energy.

Read More: Engineering News and Engineering Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.