Automatic Offset Cancellation and Time-Constant Reduction in Charge-Sensitive Preamplifiers
Alberto Pullia and Francesca Zocca
Abstract—A circuit technique is presented which eliminates the offset at the output of charge-sensitive preamplifiers and optionally reduces the resistive reset time-constant. Offset cancellation as well as time-constant reduction are obtained with no trimming. Offset cancellation is obtained actively through a negative feedback path whose “error” variable is the offset itself. As a result the output voltage offset is automatically eliminated, irrespective of the bias point of the input transistor and the dark current of the sensor connected to the preamplifier. Using the proposed technique in low-noise charge preamplifiers for germanium detectors typical offsets in the range 100–300 mV are reduced to 2 mV. The noise of the preamplifier is unaffected by the offset cancellation circuit. Moreover, by insertion of an optional resistor in the proposed circuitry the decay time-constant of the preamplifier is automatically reduced by a factor of up to 10, while leaving unchanged the noise and the sensitivity of the charge preamplifier. This improves pulse separation at the preamplifier’s output, which can be particularly useful for pattern recognition at high event rates. The realized offset-free circuit features an equivalent noise of 650 eV fwhm in germanium at 3 s shaping time, i.e. an Equivalent Noise Charge of 94 electrons r.m.s. and a dynamic range in excess of 86 dB, which makes it perfectly suited for high-resolution gamma-ray spectrometry with large germanium detectors. Index Terms—Charge preamplifier, low noise preamplifier, offset, semiconductor detector.

Fig. 1. Standard charge amplifier. Block T.A. is a non-inverting high-gain Transimpedance Amplifier.


OW-NOISE continuous-reset charge amplifiers for semiconductor radiation detectors or capacitive-impedance sensors are often affected by a large and unpredictable offset error in their output voltage. Such offset is typically in the 500 mV to 100 mV if the input device is a Junction Field-Effect Transistor (JFET), but it can easily exceed 1 V using a Metal-Oxide Field Effect Transistor (MOSFET). As can be deduced from Fig. 1, such a large offset is dictated mainly by at the gate of the input FET, which the negative bias voltage .A propagates to the output through the feedback resistor further offset source is the dark current of the sensor, which in accordance with the Ohm’s causes a voltage drop across law. Superimposing these two effects the offset is


Manuscript received July 23, 2009; revised October 01, 2009 and November 06, 2009. Current version published April 14, 2010. The title of this paper is patent pending, #TO2007A222838. The authors are with the Department of Physics and Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, University of Milan, 20133 Milano, Italy (e-mail: alberto.pullia@mi.infn.it; francesca.zocca@mi.infn.it). Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TNS.2009.2038913

where is the overall output offset and is the dark current of the sensor. A large and unpredictable output offset is an issue in most cases. If the preamplifier is connected to a terminated coaxial cable, for example, it causes a significant and useless static power consumption due to the DC current flowing through the termination resistance. Moreover, if the preamplifier signal is directly digitised it can reduce significantly the available signal dynamic range. Sometimes in multi-channel systems the DC output voltage of the preamplifiers is trimmed to zero, channel by channel, by manually adjusting the drain current of the input FETs. In Fig. 2 we propose a simple circuit structure able to address this issue by automatically supplying a proper amount of compensation current to the input of the FET. It must be pointed out that the shown circuit is neither a Base Line Restorer (BLR) nor a Base Line Holder (BLH) [1]–[3]. In fact, as is well known, BLRs and BLHs are time-varying circuits, whose parameters typically change when the signal at the shaper-amplifier output crosses a preset threshold. Consequently use of a BLR-equipped shaper-amplifier, either analog or digital, in conjunction with the proposed preamplifier, is correct and advisable if the system is subject to low-frequency disturbances or in high event-rate conditions. This given, the proposed circuit structure is beneficial twofold. First, it automatically zeroes the DC voltage at the preamplifier output with no trimming, irrespective of the FET bias point and the intensity of the sensor’s dark current. Second, it makes the charge reset faster with no change of sensitivity and no additional noise. This latter effect is obtained through a mechanism which reduces the effective value of the feedback resistor, making it a “cold resistor” [4], i.e. a resistive device with less noise than a physical resistor of same value. Studies addressing individually these two issues can be found in literature [5]–[10], but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first time that a unified such solution is proposed.

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II. The time scale of this process depends on the feedback loop is used to bandwidth and is set by . Fig. After some obvious calculations the overall closed-loop transfer function of the proposed circuit is found.PULLIA AND ZOCCA: AUTOMATIC OFFSET CANCELLATION AND TIME-CONSTANT REDUCTION 733 Fig. Optional resistor and should be chosen equal compensate the bias currents of is not compensated and will thus to . ! is 0 20 where “ ” is the independent variable in the Laplace domain. 2. This is shown in Fig. 2. 3. Let us now consider the feedback loop behaviour vs frequency in order to evaluate its stability. 3 and can be with a bit of calculations the transfer function analytically derived. angular frequency one can easily draw the Bode plot of as shown in Fig. The operational amplifier A is placed in a new negative feedback loop closed through R . The slope of the gain crossover at dB/decade. Let us first consider the DC condition. Modified charge amplifier. (3) Fig. Provided that (6) and (7) gain crossover occurs at and the slope of at crossover is 20 dB/decade. 4. Looking at Fig. along with the charge sensing block constitute the negative feedback loop under analysis. 3. Output Offset Removal Let us first analyse the mechanism that removes the output offset. or the (8) . To do this let us put temporarily (2) and open explicitly the negative feedback loop which provides offset cancellation. . 4. The offset voltage of affect the final offset of the circuit. Note that when the loop is coincides with that closed the preamplifier output voltage of the non-inverting input of . No large bandwidth is instead required for . In this case the “error variable” of the feedback loop can be visualized as the difference between the non-inverting and the inverting inputs of . This yields offset cancellation. Therefore an operational amplifier with low offset voltage should be chosen for . Putting in (3) where “ ” is the imaginary unit and is the . the feedback loop will ultimately bring to the ground voltage (or that of pin “force output offset”) in order to minimize the “error variable”. Because the inverting input of is kept to ground through (or to the voltage of pin “force output offset”). Bode plot of jG j. This loop cancels the output offset. which ensures stability of the offset-cancellation loop [11]. The return voltage at the is provided through a new path which includes right pin of and . A. where a test input and the corresponding loop-path output are highlighted as an example of convenient input/output pair for the calculation of the loop gain. is the DC gain of operational amplifier and is the frequency of its dominant pole. operational amplifier . which ensures circuit stability. Open-loop path for the study of the stability of the offset-removal mechanism. and (4) (5) Transfer function (3) shows two poles and one zero. The Proportional-Integrative (PI) amplifier . METHOD Let us study the circuit of Fig.

while the second contribution is due to the offset cancellation mechanism.e. therefore. 6. As can be seen the offset cancellation circuitry is expected to introduce no extra noise.734 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON NUCLEAR SCIENCE. In this case we chose . EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS A. or putting Fig. Considering that the shown waveforms are halved by the 50 termination resistor it can be seen that an original offset of about 300 mV is fully removed. The overall effect. A charge sensitivity shorter reset time is useful to reduce the pileup at high counting rates and/or could be used as an effective alternative to Pole/ Zero stages. with no change of and no increase of parallel noise. At high frequencies the noise gets proportional to the squared frequency as obtained by referring to the input the thermal noise of the JFET channel [12]. B. Noise and Dynamic Range We then studied the noise behaviour of the circuit with and without modification. as III. Owing to the parasitic capacitance in any further increase of yields an apparent parallel to loss of gain as described in [7] and therefore is not advisable. 1.and high-frequency pickups are visible. NO. The noise brought about by the feedback resistor is however still dictated by the physical re. 2.e. The time scale is 1 ms/div. 1. Fig. However the proposed solution offers an important advantage: the DC voltage at the output of the Transimpedance Amplifier is physically zeroed. In this sense it acts as a “cold” resistor. one obtains and which yields the closed-loop circuit transfer function (10) It consists of the product of two single-pole contributions. as expected. The lower subplot of Fig. 1. . Because the shielding as well as the power supply filters of the circuit were imperfect a few peaks caused by low. i. i. or sistor (13) where symbol designates contribution of to the inputcurrent noise spectrum. . and not by its equivalent counterpart.e. 1. This is obtained by dropping condition (2). by virtue of the mechanism described in [7] and [9]. requiring no trimming for Pole/Zero cancellation. and the voltage scale for the output waveforms is 50 mV/div. . coincides with the The first contribution. VOL. As a result the reset time amplifier constant gets reduced by a factor G. Reduction of the Decay Time Constant The proposed solution allows reduction of the preamplifier reset time with no reduction of or . Scope screenshot showing the input test signal and the output signals obtained with the traditional resistive reset (“before”) and with the offset-free solution here presented (“after”). is that of with a parallel noise given by (13). The noise density as referred to the input current is shown in Fig. At low frequencies the noise is white and is in good agreement with of the Johnson the expected value (13) of noise of the feedback resistor. K is the Boltzmann constant and T is the absolute temperature. APRIL 2010 where the input signal are given by is in terms of detector current and (9) Using condition (7). 57. 6 shows the input-referred noise of the circuit as measured using a low-noise high-gain amplifier and a network/spectrum analyzer. lower than that of a physical resistance having the same value . from 0 to 26 the fall time By increasing the value of is reduced. transfer function of the simple charge amplifier of Fig. a feedback resistor . It could be argued that a similar result would be obtained by simply AC coupling the output of the charge amplifier of Fig. The effect is equivalent to putting a reduced feedback resistor (12) in the basic circuit of Fig. . B. The upper subplot shows the noise as obtained from computer simulation. . The very fast rise time of 6 ns (not shown) is unchanged. Offset Removal and Time Constant Reduction We realized the proposed circuit by modifying a simple charge amplifier of the type of that of Fig. 5. However it is experimentally evident that no extra noise is introduced (11) which makes the high-frequency gain “G” of the non-inverting equal to . i. 5 shows the output waveforms seen before and after the modification. which optimises its dynamic range and linearity.

C. In Fig. We used here . obtained virtually with an ideal non-saturating shaper amplifier is as high as 94 dB. which yields the longest decay time a jumper in place of constant. saturating at 12. 8 a sample of the signal waveform is shown as seen at the preamplifier’s or at the shaper’s output. Equivalent noise density referred to the detector current. 7. In both cases the noise spectrum is unaffected by the offset cancellation circuitry. The typical staircase-like shape is observed at the preamplifier’s output. as shown in Table I. The circuit dynamic range is 86 dB as evaluated in Fig. We used instead the model of a less performant JFET. Noise component (b) comes from the series 1/f noise of the input JFET [12]. The upper subplot shows data from a computer simulation. In Fig.5 V Virtually obtained with an ideal non saturating shaper amplifier Defined as the ratio of the maximum-signal height to 2 (14) is the JFET transconductance. where the event rate was of 4 kcount/s. However it is a classical noise component in this context [13]–[15] and often yields an important loss of resolution in pulse-height measurements because its spectral content largely overlaps to that of the signal. In the computer simulation. Noise component (c) has a spectral density TABLE I PREAMPLIFIER’S FEATURES With the used shaper amplifier set at minimum gain. At higher frequencies the noise shows a component (b) proportional to the frequency and a component (c) proportional to the squared frequency. where the maximum signal and the noise are shown as seen at the shaper amplifier output. Circuit Behavior at Increasing Event Rates The circuit behavior at increasing event rates has been studied by simulating the detector signals with a Random Pulse Generator. is caused by the shaper amplifier rather than by the preamplifier. model BNC DB-2. This was not observed in the simulation because the electrical model of the device did not include the 1/f noise.5 7 electrons r. with lower transconductance. 8 it can be noted that sometimes the preamplifier waveform goes negative. as obtained before and after using the proposed offset cancellation technique.PULLIA AND ZOCCA: AUTOMATIC OFFSET CANCELLATION AND TIME-CONSTANT REDUCTION 735 Fig. The full dynamic range of the preamplifier. where the principal preamplifier features are summarized. Signal saturation at 12.5 V. but in two cases. 6.m. as measured using a quasi-Gaussian shaper amplifier with a shaping time of 3 . which could surprise at first sight considering that the quiescent point was zero after offset removal. or equivalently 650 46 eV fwhm for Ge detectors. injecting randomly spaced charge pulses at the preamplifier’s input through a calibrated test capacitance. 7. At low frequency a white noise-component (a) is seen which again is in excellent agreement with the expected value (13). The Equivalent Noise Charge of the circuit is 94. In the upper subplot of Fig.s. which consistently yields a larger value for the noise contribution shown in (14). and hence the worst case for the pileup at the preamplifier’s output. in fact. Fig. highlighted in the figure. is frequency and is where a constant parameter [12]. 6 it can be seen that this component is even lower than that returned by the simulation. we could not use the model of the actual JFET [17] because it was not available in the software libraries. given that a superposition of finite-area pulses is . But this is not really surprising. This noise component comes physically from the thermal noise of the JFET channel [16]. The shaper separates most pulses. The lower subplot shows experimental data. however. just below the shaper’s saturation limit. Signal and noise as seen at the shaper amplifier’s output. In the upper subplot a very large signal is shown. by the offset cancellation circuitry.. an evident pileup is observed even after the shaper’s action.

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