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A microbolometer is a specific type of bolometer used as a detector in a thermal camera. Infrared radiation with wavelengths between 8-13 μm strikes the detector material, heating it, and thus changing its electrical resistance. This resistance change is measured and processed into temperatures which can be used to create an image. Unlike other types of infrared detecting equipment, microbolometers do not require cooling.
Additional recommended knowledge
Theory of Operation
A microbolometer is an uncooled thermal sensor. Previous high resolution thermal sensors required exotic and expensive cooling methods including stirling cycle coolers and liquid nitrogen coolers. These methods of cooling made early thermal imagers expensive to operate and unwieldy to move. Also, older thermal imagers required a cool down time in excess of 10 minutes before being usable.
The quality of images created from microbolometers has continued to increase. The microbolometer array is commonly found in two sizes, 320×240 pixels or less expensive 160×120 pixels. Both arrays provide the same physical resolution but the bigger array provides a larger field of view. Current technology has led to the production of devices with 640×480 pixels. There has also been a decrease in the individual pixel dimensions. The pixel size was typically 45 μm in older devices and has been decreased to 25 μm in current devices. As the pixel size is decreased and the number of pixels per unit area is increased proportionally, an image with higher resolution is created.
Detecting Material Properties
There is a wide variety of materials that are used for the detector element in microbolometers. A main factor in dictating how well the device will work is the devices responsivity. Responsivity is the ability of the device to convert the incoming radiation into an electrical signal. Detector material properties influence this value and thus several main material properties should be investigated: TCR, 1/f Noise, and Resistance.
Temperature Coefficient of Resistance
The material used in the detector must demonstrate large changes in resistance as a result of minute changes in temperature. As the material is heated, due to the incoming infrared radiation, the resistance of the material decreases. This is related to the materials temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR) specifically its negative temperature coefficient. Industry currently manufactures microbolometers that contain materials with TCRs near -2%. Although many materials exist that have far higher TCRs, there are several other factors that need to be taken into consideration when producing optimized microbolometers.
1/f noise, like other noises, causes a disturbance that affects the signal and that may distort the information carried by the signal. Changes in temperature across the absorbing material are determined by changes in the bias current or voltage flowing through the detecting material. If the noise is large then small changes that occur may not be seen clearly and the device is useless. Using a detector material that has a minimum amount of 1/f noise allows for a clearer signal to be maintained between IR detection and the output that is displayed. Detector material must be tested to assure that this noise does not significantly interfere with signal.
Using a material that has low room temperature resistance is also important. Lower resistance across the detecting material mean less power will need to be used. To observe large changes in current when there is a change in resistance, it is easier to have a lower resistance material. For example, using Ohm's law, V=IR, it can be seen that if the voltage is held constant across a material and the initial resistance is 1 Ω, the current will be 1 A. If the resistance increases to 2 Ω the current will change to .5 A, a .5 A change. On the other hand a 1 Ω change in resistance at high resistances, for example, 100,000 Ω to 100,001 Ω would only result in the current changing 1x10-6 A. A change this small becomes much more difficult to detect. Also, there is a relationship between resistance and noise, the higher the resistance the higher the noise. Thus, for easier detection and to satisfy the low noise requirement, resistance should be low.
The two most commonly used IR radiation detecting materials in microbolometers are amorphous silicon and vanadium oxide. Much research has been done to test other materials feasibility to be used as a detecting material. Other materials that have been investigated include: YBaCuO, GeSiO, poly SiGe, BiLaSrMnO and a protein based cytochrome C bovine serum albumen.
Amorphous Si (a-Si) works well mainly because it can easily be integrated into the CMOS fabrication process. To create the layered structure and patterning, the CMOS fabrication process can be used but it requires temperatures to stay below 200˚C on average. A problem with some potential materials is that to create the desirable properties their deposition temperatures may be too high although this is not a problem for a-Si thin films. a-Si also possesses reasonable values for TCR, 1/f noise and resistance when the deposition parameters are optimized.
Vanadium oxide thin films may also be integrated into the CMOS fabrication process although not as easily as a-Si for temperature reasons. Deposition at high temperatures and performing post-annealing allows for the production of films with superior properties although acceptable films can still be made subsequently fulfilling the temperature requirements. VO2 has low resistance but undergoes a metal-insulator phase change near 67oC and also has a lower value of TCR. On the other hand, V2O5 exhibits high resistance and also high TCR. Many phases of VOx exist although it seems that x≈1.8 has become the most popular for microbolometer applications.
Active vs Passive Microbolometers
Most microbolometers contain a temperature sensitive resistor which makes them a passive electronic device. In 1994 one company, Electro-Optic Sensor Design (EOSD), began looking into producing microbolometers that used a thin film transistor (TFT), which is a special kind of field effect transistor. The main change in these devices would be the addition of a gate electrode. Although the main concepts of the devices are similar, using this design allows for the advantages of the TFT to be utilized. Some benefits include tuning of the resistance and activation energy and the reduction of periodic noise patterns. As of 2004 this device was still being tested and was not used in commercial IR imaging.
The sensitivity is partly limited by the thermal conductance of the pixel. The speed of response is limited by the thermal heat capacity divided by the thermal conductance. Reducing the heat capacity increases the speed but also increases statistical mechanical thermal temperature fluctuations (noise). Increasing the thermal conductance raises the speed, but decreases sensitivity.
The microbolometer technology was originally developed by Honeywell in the mid 80's as a classified contract for the US Department of Defense. The US Government declassified the technology in 1992. After declassification Honeywell licensed their technology to several manufacturers.
Companies that currently have licenses to manufacture microbolometer arrays
Wang, Hongchen; Xinjian Yi, Jianjun Lai and Yi Li (31 January 2005). "Fabricating Microbolometer Array on Unplanar Readout Integrated Circuit". International Journal of Infrared and Millimeter Waves 26 (5): 751-762.
LETI. Microbolometers. Retrieved on 2007-12-03.
Deb, K.K; Ionescu, A.C., Li, C. (August 2000). "Protein-based thin films: A new high-TCR material". Sensors 17 (8): 52-55. Peterborough, NH: Advanstar Communications. Retrieved on 2007-12-03.
Kumar, R.T. Rajendra; B. Karunagarana, D. Mangalaraja,, Sa.K. Narayandassa, P. Manoravib, M. Josephb, Vishnu Gopalc, R.K. Madariac, J.P. Singhc (18 March 2003). "Room temperature deposited vanadium oxide thin films for uncooled infrared detectors". Materials Research Bulletin 38: 1235–1240.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Microbolometer". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|