Collin Arocho
8 July 2019

Amsterdam Scientific Instruments recently revealed that it received two million euros in new investment from, among others, the TechNano Fund. With this injection of capital, the high tech imaging expert is looking to expand and to develop its system for next-generation detection.

Founded in 2011 as a spin-off of Nikhef, the NWO institute for subatomic physics, and Amolf, the NWO institute for physics of functional complex matter, Amsterdam Scientific Instruments (ASI) develops state-of-the-art image detecting systems used in x-ray, electron microscopy and mass spectrometry. These systems have a 2D array of ‘smart pixels’, where each pixel essentially operates as a camera by measuring the energy of incoming charges.

ASI’s hybrid pixel imaging systems are both detection and readout capable, as well as customizable, offering a broad range of applications, both in the scientific and industrial domains. The camera systems are already being deployed in several experimental physics labs all over the globe, including Nikhef and the European organization for nuclear research, CERN.

Credit: ASI

Medipix collaboration

The detection is realized through the direct conversion of radiation into a charge in a sensitive layer. This is then electronically collected, detected and then processed by an imaging ASIC. The applied electric field allows for fast signal collection with a small spread of the signal. Therefore, high sensitivity and high spatial resolution are possible.

The readout principle is based on pixelization of the imaging ASIC. The basic architecture of each ASIC pixel consists of a signal amplifier, a discriminator and a counter. With the help of software, a threshold can be established and controlled so that only incoming pulses above a desired level will be counted.

ASML special

The underlying technology comes from the international Medipix collaboration. Consisting of some of the world’s leading research institutes and universities, and under the guidance of CERN, this consortium successfully developed the pixelized chips.

The original Medipix ASIC was used simply to count photons. The third generation is based on smaller-scale lithography, which provides additional functionality like higher speed acquisition, more accurate x-ray energy selection and color imaging. With the updated design, the chip can be set up to count particles with four user-settable thresholds for simultaneous detection across multiple spectral ranges. Additionally, each Medipix3 pixel is outfitted with two programmable counters where one can be set to count, while the other is utilized to readout – allowing for continuous read/write, dead-time free capabilities.

The Timepix ASIC is a general-purpose readout chip that offers two additional modes to the pixels: Time-over-Threshold (TOT) and Time-of-Arrival (TOA). TOT detects and records the height of a pulse, as well as how long the pulse remains over the determined threshold. Similar to Medipix, the third generation of this chip also utilizes smaller-scale lithography. The update has improved the time resolution to 1.6 nanoseconds. Another key upgrade for the Timepix3 is the ability to simultaneously measure energy and time. The data is then read out in the form of a continuous event list of hit coordinates, as opposed to a sequence of individual frames.

Looking to expand

ASI CEO Hans Brouwer is looking to scale up the organization and open the door to new applications and markets for next-generation products. To achieve this, the new funds have been earmarked for expansion. Though it was only just announced, the investment was received months ago and ASI didn’t waste any time putting it to use. The team has now grown from fourteen to twenty-four members, with an emphasis on expertise in the areas of electronics, mechanics, software and physics. With this lift, ASI aims to implement an innovation program for the development of technology – specifically, the creation of faster and larger-area detectors.

The boost of money comes from Value Creation Capital (VCC), through the TechNano Fund, which was founded in 2005 and used as a vehicle for investment into active high tech companies. Additional support also came from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and the Innovatiefonds Noord-Holland.