Revolutionary imaging technology captures images of single photon

19 Dec 2017

Image: GiroScience/Shutterstock

A breakthrough imaging technology could offer major advances in life sciences and security, by capturing things down to a single photon.

Imaging technology is advancing at a blistering rate, with even leftover parts of DVD players being used to create some of the most advanced DNA microscopes out there.

Now, a team of engineers from Dartmouth College in the US has developed a new technology that promises to revolutionise medical and life sciences research, security, photography, cinematography, and other applications that rely on high-quality, low-light imaging.

In a paper published to the journal Optica, the research team revealed its technology, called the Quanta Image Sensor (QIS), which is able to reliably capture and count single photons, the lowest level of light.

This gives a resolution of just one megapixel, and it is produced as fast as thousands of frames per second, all within low light at room temperature while using mainstream image-sensor technology.

Until QIS, such imaging technology required large pixels or cooling to low temperatures, or both.

Given that the team was dealing with a whole new field of imaging, it named these very small pixels ‘jots’, which are sensitive enough to detect a single photon of light.

Central to the team’s work was an effort to make the QIS with commercially accessible components to keep costs down, so co-inventor Eric Fossum incorporated it into standard CMOS image technology (which he also invented), found in modern smartphones.

Giving some examples, the team suggested that for astrophysicists, the technology would allow for the detection and capture of better signals from distant objects in space, while cinematographers could create Imax-quality video in an easily edited, digital format while still providing many of the same characteristics of film.

What the team is aiming to do now is to improve the image resolution of QIS again, from one megapixel to hundreds of millions of jots, all scanned at a very fast rate.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic