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ASTR 5110, Majewski [FALL 2011]. Lecture Notes

ASTR 5110 (Majewski) Lecture Notes


REFERENCE: Chapter 6.3 of Rieke, Detection of Light

  • Imagine three sets of interspersed gates put in a repeating pattern as shown.
    • A group of gates with a common electrical link is a called a phase.
    • For each pixel we have one gate of each phase.
    • Each phase alters its voltage with a distinct and repeating clock-like signal, alternating between "high" and "low" states.
    • The clocks for each phase are timed to work together in a pattern called a timing sequence (like the timing sequence provided by a car's rotor, which transfers electrical charge via a network of wires to the spark plugs).
    • A clever timing sequence, like that shown, can change phase states in such a way as to drive packets of stored electrons from left to right.

      3-Phase Charge Transfer

    • Note that in the above timing sequence at least one "high" well state separates two consecutive electron packets to prevent mixing of information.
    • Three phase electron packet transfer. Movie from

    • The above three-phase transfer system is typically used in research grade astronomical CCD cameras.

    • An important aspect of the three-phase mechanism is that the clocks must be carefully adjusted in a well-timed order to optimize the electron transfer speed without having the wells get out of phase with one another. This requires carefully constructed timing circuitry.
  • The ST-8 CCD used on the McCormick telescope for teaching/public outreach (e.g., ASTR 3130) uses a simpler, two-phase transfer .
    • Two clocks easier to keep in step -- simpler and less expensive timing circuitry.
    • To accomplish two-phase transfer, introduce "intermediate" voltage level next to every normal gate - make by having electrodes at different distances above insulator - changing effective capacitance and creating a specially shaped depletion zone under each pixel.
    • Alternating high, 0, low states with the shaped wells keep the electrons "pouring" to the right in the picture.

      2-Phase Charge Transfer


  • During transfer from one pixel to another, a certain number of charges are left behind.
    • Poor charge transfer efficiency (CTE) results in a "blurring" of the signal due to charge trailing behind and getting mixed with later packets.
    • Example of poor CTE:
  • CTE is technically defined as the fraction of any particular charge packet that is passed from one depletion zone to the next.

  • Only a slight transfer inefficiency is tolerable:
    • Let:
      No = # charges originally under gate

      Nt = # charges transferred to next gate

      Then the CTE is

    • Imagine a simple case of a 100 electron packet with 1 charge that does not get transferred and is left behind during a single transfer:
    • This 99% CTE doesn't seem so bad for one packet transfer, but the inefficiency accumulates and can lead to horrible consequences.

        For example start with the same 100 e- charge packet, but now make 100 transfers. At the end of those 100 transfers we are left with:

    • In today's CCDs, an individual charge packet can face up to 6000 transfers!
      • --> Clearly we require CTE's of > 0.99999

  • What's happening at the micro level to affect CTE?:

    Two mechanisms operate to make the electrons want to transfer from one well to the next, and each has an associated exponential time constant for the process to occur:
    • Self-induced drift from electrostatic repulsion

      • This mechanism dominates for wells that are rather full of electrons:

      • For a 15 gate under which there are 300,000 e- the time constant = 0.002 s (microseconds).
      • As the electrons drain off from one depletion zone to the next, the repulsion force diminishes and grows. A second process eventual takes over...

    • Simple thermal diffusion

      • This mechanism dominates in the case of small amounts of charge (not many charges to repel one another forcefully enough).

      • Thermal diffusion is clearly slower, but the speed of course depends on the temperature of the device:

          @ T = 300 K, ~ 0.026 s

          @ T = 77 K, ~ 0.1 s

  • Why does it take so long to read out a CCD image? (In astronomical CCDs you will know from experience that this is so...)

    Clearly the faster you cycle your clock phases, the less time there is for charges to travel from one depletion zone to the next in the "bucket brigade".

    • We clearly want to have good CTE, and this means we need to clock the gates at a speed that is much slower than the thermal diffusion time constant if we want to ensure enough time for nearly 100% transfer of charges.

    • But the speed of the clocking affects the readout time of a CCD. We don't want to wait too long to make each transfer or it will take an intolerable amount of time to read a huge array with millions of pixels and even many more individual packet transfers.

    • We can determine how the CTE relates to the clock speed by accounting for the transfer as characterized by the exponential, statistical mechanical processes of diffusion discussed above:

      CTE = (1 - e-t/T)m
      m = # transfer phases
      T = the slower of the two time constants given above
      t = duration that the gates are in each voltage phase state

    • Nevertheless, even given the need to clear most charge, the above time constants suggest we can operate CCD clocks/timing sequences at tens of thousands of cycles per second (i.e. tens of kHz) -- but this still means it could take up to several minutes for a full chip readout.

    • QUESTION: Explain how I got tens of kHz in the above statement.

    • QUESTION: Television cameras now use CCD detectors for live video. Clearly in this situation you can't take a minute to read the full image out! What is going on here??

      • Think about temperature effects.

      • Think about size effects.

      • Think about quality needs.

  • A few other problems can affect the CTE of a CCD other than the normal statistical mechanical processed mentioned above. These processed interfere with the normal transfer process:
    • Fringing fields - Depletion zones affected by neighboring gate fields - if the gate matrix is made with improper levels of shielding.

      Effect of fringing fields on the shapes of the potential wells. Image from

      • This is a design problem and affects all CCDs made the same way.
    • Traps - Caused by poorly shaped electrodes, diffusion of implanted dopants, lattice defects in the silicon substrate, or other impurities.
      • In the cartoon representation below I show the well shape for two different phase states of the CCD. The defect creates a "mini-well" trap.

        Schematic illustrations of the effect of a trap; image by SRM.

        Image by James R. Janesick in Scientific Charge-Coupled Devices conveys the same idea, and gives a specific way for how the trap could be formed by a pinhole in the gate insulator, which allows phosphorous used to make the gates into the signal channel. The addition of the phosphorous increases the channel potential to create the localized trap.

      • This is a problem that is typically unique to each individual CCD. Traps often leave obvious defects in the images taken with CCDs.
      • Portion of a CCD image from the website and showing the effect of a trap in a column where photoelectrons get caught and cannot get transfered past. Thus, the column is partially bad.

      • The effects of traps can vary with exposure level; if the trap can be "filled" then other electrons won't be affected.

      • CCDs are typically sold on a sliding price scale that relates to the number of known traps in the device. You get what you pay for!

Very nice reference: Many of the figures on these and linked lecture pages come from or are adapted from the excellent book by G. H. Rieke, Detection of Light: From the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter , c. 1994, Cambridge University Press. In the second edition, the above material is from Section 6.3.

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Many of the figures on these and linked lecture pages come from or are adapted from the excellent book by G. H. Rieke, Detection of Light: From the Ultraviolet to the Submillimeter , c. 1994, Cambridge University Press. All material copyright © 2002,2009,2011 Steven R. Majewski. All rights reserved. These notes are intended for the private, noncommercial use of students enrolled in Astronomy 5110 at the University of Virginia.