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Improved CMOS thermal imaging using Schottky diodes

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Researchers from the Texas Analog Center of Excellence (TxACE), based at the University of Texas at Dallas, have improved thermal imaging with CMOS and created a semiconductor technology that could reduce the cost of night vision and thermal cameras. The University said the new device could make heat-based imaging affordable for everyday use.

The research was presented in December at the International Electron Device Meeting, the forum for the latest and most significant innovations in semiconductor technology.

The team used Schottky diodes within CMOS technology and have managed to reach nearly ten terahertz; the researchers said this is the highest frequency for electronic devices. ‘There are no existing electronic detection systems operating in CMOS that can reach above five terahertz,’ said Zeshan Ahmad, lead author of the work, and electrical engineering doctoral candidate at TxACE. ‘We designed our chip in such a way that it can be mass produced inexpensively, has a smaller pixel and operates at higher frequencies.’

By improving CMOS-based thermal imaging, the devices could be used in smartphones and consumer electrics. The technology could also be used affordably to detect animals whilst driving at night, detecting intruders as well as helping find pipes covered by concrete or walls.  

Dr Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering in the Jonsson School and director of TxACE, noted the time it took for the field to reach this frequency in CMOS. ‘This is a truly remarkable accomplishment. Twenty years ago, we were struggling to build CMOS circuits operating at one gigahertz. Now we are building circuits working at frequencies that are 10,000 times higher.’

The work was conducted in collaboration with researchers from Goethe University Frankfurt and Vilnius University in Lithuania and supported by TxACE. The researchers said that the next step is to realise CMOS devices that can reach even higher frequencies, up to 40 terahertz.

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