Recent demonstration of highly integrated, solid-state, time-correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) systems in CMOS technology is set to provide significant increases in performance over existing bulky, expensive hardware. Arrays of single photon single photon avalanche diode (SPAD) detectors, timing channels, and signal processing can be integrated on a single silicon chip with a degree of parallelism and computational speed that is unattainable by discrete photomultiplier tube and photon counting card solutions. New multi-channel, multi-detector TCSPC sensor architectures with greatly enhanced throughput due to minimal detector transit (dead) time or timing channel dead time are now feasible. In this paper, we study the potential for future integrated, solid-state TCSPC sensors to exceed the photon pile-up limit through analytic formula and simulation. The results are validated using a 10% fill factor SPAD array and an 8-channel, 52 ps resolution time-to-digital conversion architecture with embedded lifetime estimation. It is demonstrated that pile-up insensitive acquisition is attainable at greater than 10 times the pulse repetition rate providing over 60 dB of extended dynamic range to the TCSPC technique. Our results predict future CMOS TCSPC sensors capable of live-cell transient observations in confocal scanning microscopy, improved resolution of near-infrared optical tomography systems, and fluorescence lifetime activated cell sorting.
- photon counting
- cell sorting