Development of an Infrared Direct Viewer Based on a MEMS Focal Plane Array

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Cosme Furlong, Advisor

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

John Sullivan, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Brian Savilonis, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Maria del Pilar Arroyo de Grandes, Committee Member

Faculty Advisor or Committee Member

Raghvendra Cowlagi, Committee Member




"Thermal infrared (IR) imaging systems are widely used in medical, industrial, and defense applications. IR imaging systems utilize a lens to focus IR radiation onto a focal plane array (FPA) of IR detectors, which transduce the IR radiation from the scene into signals that can be further processed. In conventional IR imaging systems, electronic readout integrated circuitry (ROIC) is used to read out the information from the FPA, and computer signal processing allows for an IR image to be displayed on an electronic screen. However, the ROIC decreases the thermal isolation and sensitivity of the IR detectors in the FPA, and the computer processing and electronic display increase the cost, weight, and complexity of the IR imaging system. This thesis focuses on the development of an IR direct viewing system that does not require any ROIC, computer signal processing, or electronic display. This is accomplished through the use of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) uncooled IR imaging detectors, which consist of arrays of bimaterial thermomechanical cantilever structures that tilt as a function of IR radiation from a scene. Other members of the WPI-ME/CHSLT group have previously shown that an interferometric optical readout mechanism based on digital holography and computer processing can eliminate the need for ROIC and be used to measure the nanometer scale tilt of the structures in a MEMS-based IR imaging system that was found to have a responsivity of 1.5 nm/K. However, these previously demonstrated results required significant computer processing and an electronic display. The hypothesis of the current work is that an optomechanical readout mechanism can be used to realize an IR direct viewer without the use of ROIC, computer signal processing, or an electronic display. Three optical readout mechanisms were identified for transducing the nanometer scale deformations of the MEMS structures in the FPA into a directly observable visible light image. Two of these, one using live holography and the other using Nomarski differential interference contrast (DIC), were based on interferometry, while the third, using reflectometry, was based on geometrical optics. The identified optical readout mechanisms were analytically evaluated based on the performance and perception of the human vision system (HVS), and preliminary experimental results were obtained using optical setups constructed for all three readout mechanisms. Based on the analytical and experimental investigations, reflectometry was selected as the most suitable readout mechanism for a direct viewer. A visible light camera was used with custom software to determine a temperature sensitivity of 137 mK for the reflectometry readout, and thermal images of scenes at human body temperature were demonstrated using limited computer processing. A false color, direct view, live IR imaging system was then demonstrated based on a two color reflectometry readout and the output was characterized with respect to the color differentiation sensitivity of the HVS. The system temperature sensitivity, based on the theoretical color differentiation sensitivity of a human observer, was found to be on the order of 10 K across a measuring range of roughly 400 °C, and objects with a temperature as low as approximately 150 °C were distinguishable. The advantages and limitations of the developed IR imaging system are identified and recommendations for further developments and future work are provided."


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Mechanical Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





MEMS, Infrared Imaging, IR, Direct View, Holographic Interferometry, Holography, Differential Interference Contrast, Nomarski DIC, Color Difference, Color Differentiation, Color Perception, Reflectometry

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