The use of EMCCDs as silicon-based photon counting devices

Abstract: Photon Counting (PC) efficiency has increased since the first photon counting devices. Third generation image intensifiers with high Quantum Efficiency (QE) photocathodes (of the order of 30%) are used with CCDs in intensified photon counting systems. But, the efficiency of this kind of camera is limited by the capability of the tube to transform an incoming photon into an electron and amplifying it so that the output signal is largely over the CCD Read-out Noise (RON). Improvements in CCD QE, which now reaches 90% at some wavelengths, and RON, as low as 3¯e, have no effect on the total counting efficiency of these cameras. RON of 3¯e is still too high for an application such as photon counting for extreme faint fluxes. It is now possible to amplify the pixel signal into the CCD before it reaches the output amplifier and before it is affected by its noise. These Electron Multiplying CCD make it is possible to get sub-electron effective RON, low enough for PC. PC capability combined with a very low dark current, very good pixel response uniformity, and high QE offered by the CCD technology have made EMCCD the detector of choice for high-performance applications such as time resolved spectroscopy and low light imaging.

Published July 2018.

TRL-5 EMCCD Controller for Space Applications

Abstract: We present the progress in characterization of a Nuvu Cameras CCCP controller designed for extreme low light imaging in space environment with the 1024×1024 Teledyne-e2V EMCCD detector. The controller was designed using space qualified parts and extensively tested including performance and thermal vacuum. The performance test results include the readout noise, clock-induced charges, dark current, dynamic range and EM gain. After these successful tests the controller has reached TRL 5. We also discuss the CCCPs integration in the coronagraph of the High-Contrast Imaging Balloon System project: a fine-pointing and optical payload for a future Canadian stratospheric balloon mission. This first space qualified EMCCD controller will enhance sensitivity of the future low-light imaging instruments for space applications such as the detection, characterization and imaging of exoplanets, search and monitoring of asteroids and space debris, UV imaging, and satellite tracking.

Published June 2018.

Preliminary characterization results of a large format 4k x 4k EMCCD

Abstract: Scientific EMCCD cameras have demonstrated excellent imaging performance under extreme low light conditions. Photon counting capability combined with a very low dark current offered by the CCD technology have made EMCCDs the detector of choice for high-performance applications such as time resolved spectroscopy and low light imaging. However, future astronomical instrumentation requires high spatial resolution while commercially available EMCCD devices are limited by a relatively modest area format of (1k×1k). To address this requirement, the Universite ́ de Montre ́al and Teledyne-e2v have jointly developed a 4k×4k EMCCD, the CCD282. This paper presents the results of cryogenic characterization of the CCD282 operated with Nu ̈vu ̈ Came ̄ras’ CCD Controller for Counting Photons version 3. The advantages of a novel large format EMCCD over existing technology for high resolution spectroscopy are discussed.

Published June 2018.

Astronomical Imaging With EMCCDs Using Long Exposures

Abstract: Astronomical imaging is always limited by the detection system signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). EMCCD cameras offer many advantages for low light applications, such as sub-electron read-out noise, and low dark current with appropriate cooling. High frame rate achieved with these devices is often employed for the enhancement of SNR by acquiring and stacking multiple short exposures instead of one long exposure. EMCCDs are also suitable for applications requiring very long exposures, even when only a few photons are detected per hour. During long exposure acquisitions with a conventional CCD, slower pixel rates are usually employed to reduce the read-out noise, which dominates the CCD noise budget. For EMCCD cameras, this approach may not result in the lowest possible total noise and the effect of increasing the total exposure time may not yield the highest possible SNR for a given total integration time. In this paper, we present and discuss the experimental results obtained with an EMCCD camera that has been optimized for taking long exposures (from several seconds to several hours) of low light-level targets. These results helped to ascertain an EMCCD camera best operating parameters for long exposure astronomical imaging.

Published June 2014.

EMCCDs: 10 MHz and beyond

Abstract: EMCCDs are capable of MHz pixel rate whilst maintaining sub-electron readout noise. Tens of frames per second are common place for large and medium EMCCD formats (1k×1k, 512×512), while smaller formats can reach hundreds and even thousand of frames per second. For applications where speed is a key factor, overclocked EMCCD were used at or beyond the manufacturer’s specifications. Very few data were published on the impacts of high speed clocking of EMCCDs, either vertically or horizontally. This paper presents characterization results of EMCCDs clocked at high speed.

Published June 2014.

Characterization Results of EMCCDs for Extreme Low Light Imaging

Abstract: EMCCDs are capable of extreme low light imaging thanks to sub-electron read-out noise, enabling single-photon counting. The characterization of e2v’s CCD60 (128 x 128), CCD97 (512 x 512) and CCD201-20 (1024 x 1024) using a controller optimized for the driving of EMCCDs at a high (≥ 10 MHz) pixel rate per output with < 0.002 ē total background signal. Using the CCD Controller for Counting Photons (CCCP), the horizontal and vertical CIC, dark current and EM gain stability are characterized.

Published July 2012.

The Darkest EMCCD Ever

Abstract: EMCCDs are devices capable of sub-electron read-out noise at high pixel rate, together with a high quantum efficiency (QE). However, they are plagued by an excess noise factor (ENF) which has the same effect on photometric measurement as if the QE would be halved. In order to get rid of the ENF, the photon counting (PC) operation is mandatory, with the drawback of counting only one photon per pixel per frame. The high frame rate capability of the EMCCDs comes to the rescue, at the price of increased clock induced charges (CIC), which dominates the noise budget of the EMCCD. The CIC can be greatly reduced with an appropriate clocking, which renders the PC operation of the EMCCD very efficient for faint flux photometry or spectroscopy, adaptive optics, ultrafast imaging and Lucky Imaging. This clocking is achievable with a new EMCCD controller: CCCP, the CCD Controller for Counting Photons. This new controller, which is now commercialized by Nüvü Camēras inc., was integrated into an EMCCD camera and tested at the Observatoire du Mont Mégantic. The results are presented in this paper.

Published June 2010.

Extreme Faint Flux Imaging with an EMCCD

Abstract: An EMCCD camera, designed from the ground up for extreme faint flux imaging, is presented. CCCP, the CCD Controller for Counting Photons, has been integrated with a CCD97 EMCCD from e2v technologies into a scientific camera at the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique Expérimentale (LAE), Université de Montréal. This new camera achieves subelectron readout noise and very low clock-induced charge (CIC) levels, which are mandatory for extreme faint flux imaging. It has been characterized in laboratory and used on the Observatoire du Mont Mégantic 1.6 m telescope. The performance of the camera is discussed and experimental data with the first scientific data are presented.

Published August 2009.

CCCP: A CCD Controller for Counting Photons

Abstract: CCCP, a CCD Controller for Counting Photons, is presented. This new controller uses a totally new clocking architecture and allows to drive the CCD in a special way. Its design is optimized for the driving of EMCCDs at up to 20 MHz of pixel rate and fast vertical transfer. Using this controller, the dominant source of noise of EMCCDs at low flux levels and high frame rates, the Clock Induced Charges, were reduced to 0.001 – 0.0018 electron/pixel/frame (depending on the electron multiplying gain), making efficient photon counting possible. CCCP will be deployed in 2009 on the ESO NTT through the 3D-NTT project and on the SOAR through the BTFI project.

Published June 2008.

Faint Flux Performance of an EMCCD

Abstract: Thorough numerical simulations were ran to test the performance of three processing methods of the data coming out from an electron multiplying charge coupled device (EMCCD), or low light level charge coupled device (L3CCD), operated at high gain, under real operating conditions. The effect of read-out noise and spurious charges is tested under various low flux conditions (0.001 event/pixel/frame < ƒ < 20 events/pixel/frame). Moreover, a method for finding the value of the gain applied by the EMCCD amplication register is also developed. It allows one to determine the gain value to an accuracy of a fraction of a percent from dark frames alone.

Published May 2006.