Image intensifier: Phosphor screen

The phosphor screen emites photons if accelerated electrons hit the material. The most common use of phosphor screens are cathode ray tube displays which are used in the early TV's and oscilloscopes. Phosphors for these cathode ray tubes were standardized and designated by the letter "P" followed by a number. The phosphor screen of image intensifiers converts the electron avalanche from the micro channel plate back into photons.

Image intensifier: phosphor screen emission mechanism

The phosphor screen converts accelerated electrons into photons.

Typical conversion factors of the used phosphor screens are between 20 and 200 photons per electron, depending on the phosphor type and the kinetic energy of the electrons, i.e. the acceleration voltage. In order to increase the number of photons emitted in the direction towards the CCD sensor, the backside of the phosphor is coated with an aluminum layer that reflects photons towards the proper direction, as shown in the enlarged detail above.

Several different phosphors types are available which differ in the emitted spectrum and in decay time, i.e. in fluorescence lifetime, as shown in the according pictures below.

Image intensifier: phosphor screen quantum efficiency

The quantum efficiency of different phosphor screens.

Image intensifier: decay times of the phosphor screen

The decay times (fluorescence lifetime) of different phosphor screens.

An optimum phosphor screen will be chosen for the specific requirements of your application. There are three important considerations in choosing a phosphor screen. First the efficiency, second the phosphor decay time and last the spatial resolution.

The two mostly used phosphor screens for image intensifiers are P43 and P46. The P43 phosphor screen has a higher efficiency and higher spatial resolution due to smaller grain size. However, it has a long decay time. For fast applications e.g. double frame mode with an interframing time of 500ns the faster decaying P46 phosphor screen is necessary to avoid ghost images from the previous exposure. The trade-off of the P46 phosphor screen is lower efficiency and lower spatial resolution.

Especially, at the double frame mode it need to be ensured that the fluorescence of the phosphor from the last image has sufficiently died down before the CCD sensor read out the second image. This is to avoid any loss of light and, even more important, to avoid crosstalk to the next image.

Phosphor screen

P43 P46
Conversion Efficiency 200 95 photons per electron
decay time 100% => 10% 1500 0.2 µs
decay time 100% => 1% 3200 20 µs