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Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing

Imaging is Everything

2004 Educator Award winner James Janesick has spent his career developing high-quality imaging detectors.

From oemagazine June 2004
31 June 2004, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.5200406.0010

SPIE Board of Directors member Gloria Putnam and Janesick at his favorite restaurant. Says Janesick, "My favorite place to eat is Taco Bell . . . since 1962."

James Janesick is the recipient of the 2004 SPIE Educator Award for educating thousands on the scientific nuts and bolts of CCD and CMOS imaging arrays. Since his first SPIE short course in 1989, he has taught more than 1900 students in nearly 60 short courses. "Often SPIE classes go into the late evening hours, and start at 8:30 a.m. It is an exciting information exchange—the rest of the world doesn't exist. They learn, and I learn," says Janesick.

He has also co-taught five-day courses on CCDs for 12 years through the University of California, Los Angeles extension program. Counting the readers of his comprehensive reference book Scientific Charge-Coupled Devices, published by SPIE Press, the number of students of his work grows significantly.

But even more than quantity—it's quality that really matters. In fact, superior quality is what Janesick began pursuing in the early 1970s during the infancy of the CCD and continues to pursue today with scientific CMOS imagers.

Striving for Sensitivity

Janesick was hired at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL; Pasadena, CA) in 1972 specifically to investigate the new, and mostly unknown, technology of CCDs. Vidicon tubes and photographic film were the norm of the day for imaging detectors. However, NASA was gearing up for deep-space missions that required a very different imaging solution.

"Long lifetime problems are encountered when traveling to the outer planets, a difficulty that tubes suffer for extended visits," explains Janesick. "Also, the amount of sunlight out there is scarce, and therefore, more sensitivity is required. A solid-state solution that CCDs potentially offered appeared to solve both problems."

Thus, building on work first developed at Bell Laboratories, where CCDs were conceived of as memory devices, the JPL team began work on CCDs for astronomical imaging. "During my first year at JPL I engineered probably the first CCD astronomical camera for home hobby use (I didn't tell my boss)," Janesick says. "The first 100 * 100 CCD pixel images behind my small 3-in. telescope looked encouraging."

On the Road Again

After initial CCD camera development, JPL needed to turn heads, win over the scientific community, and generate funding for advanced CCD development.

One key strategy was the fabrication of a "traveling" CCD camera system to demonstrate the new detector at the world's largest astronomical observatories. The traveling camera system made visits to Mt. Lemmon Observatory and Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona, Lick and Palomar observatories in California, and Chile's Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.

"Astronomers were content with their eyeball and film, making it difficult at first to sell CCD merits," says Janesick. "What first broke the ice for the CCD was the first trip we made to Mt. Lemmon [in 1976]. CCD observations of planet Uranus were made for the Voyager mission in route to Uranus at the time. The measurements taken determined the planet's diameter more accurately than photographic film, allowing for an improved trajectory path to encounter Uranus."

Adds Janesick, "The CCD was a total hit by generating new science on each visit."

Word of these breakthroughs got around and quickly led to acceptance and eagerness on the part of astronomers. After several years of development, CCDs became a standard part of space flight missions such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Galileo spacecraft, Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the Cassini-Huygens mission.

"It was fun to be part of all that, especially when I look back to my first CCD camera," says Janesick. "Who would have known that the CCD would completely revolutionize astronomical instrumentation?"

A New Challenge

After 22 years at JPL and development of the CCD had slowed, Janesick decided it was time for a new challenge—CMOS. "I became hooked to take on the task of making CMOS a performer like the CCD," he says.

"A CMOS imager is essentially a 'camera on a chip.' The integrated CMOS imager is rugged, small, low mass, low cost, and consumes very little power. High-speed readout with low noise is CMOS's prime performance advantage over the CCD. This is because pixels are read in parallel random access fashion. Also, CMOS is very tolerant to high-energy radiation sources. CCDs must employ massive protective shields and are cooled to very low temperatures to circumvent radiation problems," explains Janesick, now at Sarnoff Corp. (Huntington Beach, CA).

Much like CCD evolution, CMOS has a fight ahead of it to prove its worth to the scientific community.

"The CCD is a textbook performer and will not give much ground to CMOS until it can perform nearly as well. Also, today's research and development resources are in short supply, making it more difficult for CMOS to advance," Janesick says. "Fundamentally, CCD and CMOS imagers can exhibit equivalent performance because both are made with silicon. In the meantime, the CCD and CMOS will coexist, with the best choice dependent on the application."

Pushing the limits of imaging isn't the only thing in Janesick's life, of course. He and his wife, Linda, have been together for 30 years. They have a daughter, Amanda, who is a professional ballerina and a college student majoring in mathematics/statistics. An avid cyclist, Janesick has one bike with 150,000 miles on it. He also likes to run, play classical piano and guitar, and read about cosmology and quantum physics.