Cooled SPAD array detector for low light-dose fluorescence laser scanning microscopy

Eli Slenders (1), Eleonora Perego (1), Mauro Buttafava, Giorgio Tortarolo, Enrico Conca, Sabrina Zappone, Agnieszka Pierzynska-Mach, Federica Villa, Enrica Maria Petrini, Andrea Barberis, Alberto Tosi, Giuseppe Vicidomini (see publication in Journal )


The single-photon timing and sensitivity performance and the imaging ability of asynchronous-readout single-photon avalanche diode (SPAD) array detectors have opened up enormous perspectives in fluorescence (lifetime) laser scanning microscopy (FLSM), such as super-resolution image scanning microscopy and high-information content fluorescence fluctuation spectroscopy. However, the strengths of these FLSM techniques depend on the many different characteristics of the detector, such as dark noise, photon-detection efficiency, after-pulsing probability, and optical cross talk, whose overall optimization is typically a trade-off between these characteristics. To mitigate this trade-off, we present, to our knowledge, a novel SPAD array detector with an active cooling system that substantially reduces the dark noise without significantly deteriorating any other detector characteristics. In particular, we show that lowering the temperature of the sensor to −15°C significantly improves the signal/noise ratio due to a 10-fold decrease in the dark count rate compared with room temperature. As a result, for imaging, the laser power can be decreased by more than a factor of three, which is particularly beneficial for live-cell super-resolution imaging, as demonstrated in fixed and living cells expressing green-fluorescent-protein-tagged proteins. For fluorescence fluctuation spectroscopy, together with the benefit of the reduced laser power, we show that cooling the detector is necessary to remove artifacts in the correlation function, such as spurious negative correlations observed in the hot elements of the detector, i.e., elements for which dark noise is substantially higher than the median value. Overall, this detector represents a further step toward the integration of SPAD array detectors in any FLSM system.