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Quantum films to displace CMOS sensors in digicams?

Posted: 24 Mar 2010 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:quantum film? CMOS? image sensor? silicon image chip?

Just as photographic film was mostly displaced by silicon image chips, quantum films are claimed to replace the conventional CMOS image sensors in digital cameras. Made from materials similar to conventional filma polymer with embedded particlesinstead of silver grains like photographic film, the embedded particles are quantum dots. Quantum films can image scenes with more pixel resolution offering 4x better sensitivity for ultrahigh-resolution sensors that are cheaper to manufacture, according to their inventors, InVisage Inc.

"Many innovations are said to be revolutionary, but are really incremental changes. InVisage's quantum film, on the other hand, really is revolutionary," said Tom Hausken, director of photonics and compound semiconductors at Strategies Unlimited. "Quantum dots have been a solution looking for a problem for several years, and InVisage has found a very significant problem they can solve."

According to Morry Marshall, VP of strategic technologies at Semico Research Corp., InVisage could have the next-generation image sensor. "It gathers more light so you can either make a smaller image sensor for a less expensive cellphone camera, or you make a higher resolution sensor for high-end digital cameras," Marshall said. "It's a huge step forward and the market is also huge, so they will also need to overcome the problems facing any small company when trying to penetrate a large market."

The new semiconducting material was invented by University of Toronto professor Ted Sargent, who is now chief technology officer at InVisage. Sargent perfected a method of suspending lead-sulfide nanoparticles in a polymer matrix to form a new class of semiconducting polymer that InVisage has spent the last three years integrating into a standard CMOS process. Now it can paint quantum film atop a low-cost wafer that has the electrode array for super-dense high-pixel-count images, but without any of the expensive CMOS photodetectors that make up the bulk of conventional digital camera sensors.

"Our quantum film replaces the silicon used for image capture, but what we have really created here is a new semiconductor material," said Jess Lee, InVisage president and CEO. "Our quantum film even looks like photographic filman opaque black material that we deposit right on the top layer of our image chip."

Unlike tradition semiconductors, which have a fixed bandgap, the bandgap of InVisage's quantum film can be adjusted by changing the size of the embedded quantum dots. The film can also be painted-on at room temperature, obviating the need for expensive high-temperature fabrication techniques required by conventional sensors.

"We can paint our quantum-dot film onto any surface," said Lee. "Right now we are painting them on silicon wafers for our first productan ultra low cost image sensor that obsoletes CMOS sensors."

Traditional CMOS sensors require that light filter down past several microns of metallization to reach the photodetectors on a silicon wafer, but InVisage's quantum film is on the top layer for 100 percent exposure to incident light.

"Traditional CMOS sensors require light to travel down through four or five microns of metal before reaching the photodetector, whereas our quantum film captures all the incident light in a layer just 500 nanometers thick," said Michael Hepp, director of marketing at InVisage.

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