Purpose: The implementation of photon-counting detectors is widely expected to be the next breakthrough in X-ray computed tomography (CT) instrumentation. A small number of prototype scanners equipped with direct-conversion detectors based on room-temperature semiconductors, such as CdTe and CdZnTe (CZT), are currently installed at medical centers. Here, we investigate the feasibility of using silicon photomultiplier (SiPM)-based scintillation detectors in photon-counting computed tomography (PCCT) scanners, as a potential alternative to CdTe and CZT detectors. Methods: We introduce a model that allows us to compute the expected energy resolution as well as the expected pulse shape and associated rate capability of SiPM-based PCCT detectors. The model takes into account SiPM saturation and optical crosstalk, because these phenomena may substantially affect the performance of SiPM-based PCCT detectors with sub-mm pixels. We present model validation experiments using a single-pixel detector consisting of a 0.9 × 0.9 × 1.0 mm3 LuAP:Ce scintillation crystal coupled to a 1 × 1 mm2 SiPM. We subsequently use the validated model to compute the expected performance of the fast scintillators LYSO:Ce, LuAP:Ce, and LaBr3:Ce, coupled to currently available SiPMs, as well as to a more advanced SiPM prototype with improved dynamic range, for sub-mm pixel sizes. Results: The model was found to be in good agreement with the validation experiments, both with respect to energy resolution and pulse shape. It shows how saturation progressively degrades the energy resolution of detectors equipped with currently available SiPMs as the pixel size decreases. Moreover, the expected pulse duration is relatively long (~200 ns) with these SiPMs. However, when LuAP:Ce and LaBr3:Ce are coupled to the more advanced SiPM prototype, the pulse duration improves to less than 60 ns, which is in the same order of magnitude as pulses from CdTe and CZT detectors. It follows that sufficient rate capability can be achieved with pixel sizes of 400 μm or smaller. Moreover, LaBr3:Ce detectors can provide an energy resolution of 11.5%-13.5% at 60 keV, comparable to CdTe and CZT detectors. Conclusions: This work provides first evidence that it may be feasible to develop SiPM-based scintillation detectors for PCCT that can compete with CdTe and CZT detectors in terms of energy resolution and rate capability.
- energy resolution
- photon-counting computed tomography
- pulse shape
- silicon photomultiplier