Liquid crystal uncooled thermal imager development
August 28, 2016
An uncooled thermal imager is being developed based on a liquid crystal (LC) transducer. Without any electrical connections, the LC transducer pixels change the long-wavelength infrared (LWIR) scene directly into a visible image as opposed to an electric signal in microbolometers. The objectives are to develop an imager technology scalable to large formats (tens of megapixels) while maintaining or improving the noise equivalent temperature difference (NETD) compared to microbolometers. The present work is demonstrating that the LCs have the required performance (sensitivity, dynamic range, speed, etc.) to enable a more flexible uncooled imager. Utilizing 200-mm wafers, a process has been developed and arrays have been fabricated using aligned LCs confined in 20-20-um cavities elevated on thermal legs. Detectors have been successfully fabricated on both silicon and fused silica wafers using less than 10 photolithographic mask steps. A breadboard camera system has been assembled to test the imagers. Various sensor configurations are described along with advantages and disadvantages of component arrangements.