Most photoacoustic scanners use piezoelectric detectors but these have two key limitations. Firstly, they are optically opaque, inhibiting backward mode operation. Secondly, it is difficult to achieve adequate detection sensitivity with the small element sizes needed to provide near-omnidirectional response as required for tomographic imaging. Planar Fabry-Perot (FP) ultrasound sensing etalons can overcome both of these limitations and have proved extremely effective for superficial (<1cm) imaging applications. To achieve small element sizes (<100μm), the etalon is illuminated with a focused laser beam. However, this has the disadvantage that beam walk-off due to the divergence of the beam fundamentally limits the etalon finesse and thus sensitivity - in essence, the problem is one of insufficient optical confinement. To overcome this, novel planoconcave micro-resonator sensors have been fabricated using precision ink-jet printed polymer domes with curvatures matching that of the laser wavefront. By providing near-perfect beam confinement, we show that it is possible to approach the maximum theoretical limit for finesse (f) imposed by the etalon mirror reflectivities (e.g. f=400 for R=99.2% in contrast to a typical planar sensor value of f<50). This yields an order of magnitude increase in sensitivity over a planar FP sensor with the same acoustic bandwidth. Furthermore by eliminating beam walk-off, viable sensors can be made with significantly greater thickness than planar FP sensors. This provides an additional sensitivity gain for deep tissue imaging applications such as breast imaging where detection bandwidths in the low MHz can be tolerated. For example, for a 250 μm thick planoconcave sensor with a -3dB bandwidth of 5MHz, the measured NEP was 4 Pa. This NEP is comparable to that provided by mm scale piezoelectric detectors used for breast imaging applications but with more uniform frequency response characteristics and an order-of-magnitude smaller element size. Following previous proof-of-concept work, several important advances towards practical application have been made. A family of sensors with bandwidths ranging from 3MHz to 20MHz have been fabricated and characterised. A novel interrogation scheme based on rapid wavelength sweeping has been implemented in order to avoid previously encountered instability problems due to self-heating. Finally, a prototype microresonator based photoacoustic scanner has been developed and applied to the problem of deep-tissue (>1cm) photoacoustic imaging in vivo. Imaging results for second generation microresonator sensors (with R = 99.5% and thickness up to ~800um) are compared to the best achievable with the planar FP sensors and piezoelectric receivers.
James A. Guggenheim, Edward Z. Zhang, and Paul C. Beard, "Planoconcave optical microresonator sensors for photoacoustic imaging: pushing the limits of sensitivity
(Conference Presentation)," Proc. SPIE 9708, Photons Plus Ultrasound: Imaging and Sensing 2016, 97082M (Presented at SPIE BiOS: February 17, 2016; Published: 27 April 2016); https://doi.org/10.1117/12.2210869.4828179411001.
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