Fluorescence based analysis is a fundamental research technique used in the life sciences. However, conventional fluorescence intensity measurements are prone to misinterpretation due to illumination and fluorophore concentration non-uniformities. Thus, there is a growing interest in time-resolved fluorescence detection, whereby the characteristic fluorescence decay time-constant (or lifetime) in response to an impulse excitation source is measured. The sensitivity of a sample's lifetime properties to the micro-environment provides an extremely powerful analysis tool. However, current fluorescence lifetime analysis equipment tends to be bulky, delicate and expensive, thereby restricting its use to research laboratories.
Progress in miniaturisation of biological and chemical analysis instrumentation is creating low-cost, robust and portable diagnostic tools capable of high-throughput, with reduced reagent quantities and analysis times. Such devices will enable point-of-care or in-the-field diagnostics. It is the ultimate aim of this work to produce an integrated fluorescence lifetime analysis system capable of sub-nano second precision with an instrument measuring less than 1cm3, something hitherto impossible with existing approaches. To accomplish this, advances in the development of AlInGaN micro-LEDs and high sensitivity CMOS detectors (SPADs) have been exploited. CMOS allows electronic circuitry to be integrated alongside the photodetectors and LED drivers to produce a highly integrated system capable of processing detector data directly without the need for additional external hardware.