Pyroelectric Arrays: Ceramics and Thin Films

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Pyroelectric infra-red detectors have been of-interest for many years because of their wide wavelength response, good sensitivity and lack of need for cooling. They have achieved a wide market acceptance for such applications as people sensing, IR spectrometry (especially for environmental protection) and flame/fire protection. Arrays of such detectors, comprising a pyroelectric material interfaced to an application specific integrated circuit for signal amplification and read out, provide an attractive solution to the problem of collecting spatial information on the IR distribution in a scene and a range of new applications are appearing for such devices, from thermal imaging to people sensing and counting. The selection of the best material to use for such a device is very important. Because all polar dielectrics are pyroelectric, there is a very wide range of such materials to choose. The performance of a pyroelectric IR sensor array can be derived from the physics of their operation and figures-of-merit (FoM) defined that will describe the performance of a material in a device, in terms of its basic pyroelectric, dielectric and thermal properties. These FoM and their appropriateness for the array application are reviewed. Large arrays of small detectors are best served by the use of pyroelectric materials with permittivities between 200 and 1000, depending upon the element size and the element thermal conductance, and a maximised FoM FD = p{c′ (εεotan δ)1/2}. Such properties are found in ferroelectric perovskite ceramics and a wide range have been explored for their use in pyroelectric arrays. These include materials based on compositions in the PbZrxTi1 − xO3 (PZT) system, for example close to PbZrO3, with Curie temperatures well above ambient. Examples of the ways in which these materials can be modified by doping to optimise their FoM and other important properties such as electrical resistivity are given and the physics operating behind this discussed. The performances and costs of uncooled pyroelectric arrays are ultimately driven by the materials used. For this reason, continuous improvements in materials technology are important. In the area of bulk ceramics, it is possible to obtain significant improvements in both production costs and performance though the use of tape-cast, functionally-gradient materials. Finally, the use of directly-deposited ferroelectric thin films on silicon ASIC's is offering considerable potential for low cost high performance pyroelectric arrays. The challenges involved in developing such materials will be discussed, especially from the aspect of low temperature deposition and other fabrication issues, such as patterning. Sol gel deposition provides an excellent technique for thin film growth and Mn-doped PZT films can be grown at 560°C with a FoM FD exceeding those of many bulk materials.

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