Theses Doctoral

High-Speed Wide-Field Time-Correlated Single-Photon Counting Fluorescence Lifetime Imaging Microscopy

Field, Ryan Michael

Fluorescence microscopy is a powerful imaging technique used in the biological sciences to identify labeled components of a sample with specificity. This is usually accomplished through labeling with fluorescent dyes, isolating these dyes by their spectral signatures with optical filters, and recording the intensity of the fluorescent response. Although these techniques are widely used, fluorescence intensity images can be negatively affected by a variety of factors that impact the fluorescence intensity. Fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM) is an imaging technique that is relatively immune to intensity fluctuations and also provides the unique ability to directly monitor the microenvironment surrounding a fluorophore. Despite the benefits associated with FLIM, the applications to which it is applied are fairly limited due to long image acquisition times and high cost of traditional hardware. Recent advances in complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) have enabled the design of low-cost imaging arrays that are capable of recording lifetime images with acquisition times greater than one order of magnitude faster than existing systems. However, these SPAD arrays have yet to realize the full potential of the technology due to limitations in their ability to handle the vast amount of data generated during the commonly used time-correlated single-photon counting (TCSPC) lifetime imaging technique. This thesis presents the design, implementation, characterization, and demonstration of a high speed FLIM imaging system. The components of this design include a CMOS imager chip in a standard 0.13 μm technology containing a custom CMOS SPAD, a 64-by-64 array of these SPADs, pixel control circuitry, independent time-to-digital converters (TDCs), a FLIM specific datapath, and high bandwidth output buffers. In addition to the CMOS imaging array, a complete system was designed and implemented using a printed circuit board (PCB) for capturing data from the imager, creating histograms for the photon arrival data using field-programmable gate arrays, and transferring the data to a computer using a cabled PCIe interface. Finally, software is used to communicate between the imaging system and a computer.The dark count rate of the SPAD was measured to be only 231 Hz at room temperature while maintaining a photon detection probability of up to 30\%. TDCs included on the array have a 62.5 ps resolution and a 64 ns range, which is suitable for measuring the lifetime of most biological fluorophores. Additionally, the on-chip datapath was designed to handle continuous data transfers at rates capable of supporting TCSPC-based lifetime imaging at 100 frames per second. The system level implementation also provides sufficient data throughput for transferring up to 750 frames per second from the imaging system to a computer. The lifetime imaging system was characterized using standard techniques for evaluating SPAD performance and an electrical delay signal for measuring the TDC performance. This thesis concludes with a demonstration of TCSPC-FLIM imaging at 100 frames per second -- the fastest 64-by-64 TCSPC FLIM that has been demonstrated. This system overcomes some of the limitations of existing FLIM systems and has the potential to enable new application domains in dynamic FLIM imaging.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Electrical Engineering
Thesis Advisors
Shepard, Kenneth L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 3, 2014