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Multi-channel Scaling
Multi-channel scaling is a single photon counting technique that is used for recording luminescence decays in the time range between some microseconds and some seconds. Typically, a pulsed light source is used to excite the sample, and as the consequence of the excitation the sample emits photons. The photon density will be a function of time, often an exponential decay function. The technique of multi-channel scaling requires a pulsed light source with narrow pulses (typically 1-2s or less) and with low pulse repetition rate (less than 1 Hz to some kHz). The appropriate pulse repetition rate is often determined by the sample decay time, the multi-channel scaling data acquisition electronics, and the availability of alternative light sources. The standard FLSP920, FP920, FLP920 and FSP920 spectrometers use a microsecond xenon flashlamp (F900H) as light source for multi-channel scaling experiments. This lamp has a pulse width of <2s and a pulse repetition rate between 0.1Hz and 100Hz. The spectral output is similar to that of a continuous xenon lamp and ranges from approximately 200nm to above 1000nm. The standard FLSP920, FP920, FLP920 and FSP920 spectrometers also use the PCS920 data acquisition card for multi-channel scaling. The smallest time channels are 200ns. If higher time resolution is required (in conjunction with pulsed laser excitation, e.g. Nd:YaG lasers) an alternative data acquisition card is available.

6.3.1. The principle of multi-channel scaling

The principle of single photon multi-channel scaling is similar to the principle of a sampling oscilloscope, with the only difference that a sweeping time gate in a sampling oscilloscope records the voltage, whereas in multi-channel scaling photon pulses within the short time gate are recorded. Synchronous to the flashes of the pulsed light source, an MCS trigger pulse is fed to the data acquisition electronics. After receiving the trigger, the data acquisition electronics starts to sweep a time gate along the time axes. Photon pulses from the detector that fall into the time gate are counted and the corresponding number is stored in the memory. After a certain time, the time equal to a channel width, the gate is moved to the next position and the electronics starts counting photon pulses again. A total of up to 4096 channels can be filled with photon counts. The whole cycle will start again after the next MCS trigger. The photon counts of the given cycle will be added to the corresponding channels of the previous cycle.

excitation pulses

sample emission photon density function

sample emission individual photons at low light levels

Figure 1: Principle of multi-channel scaling.

It should be noted that the MCS trigger needs to arrive at the PCS900 card somewhat before the first photons (following the pulsed sample excitation). Only then will it be possible to monitor the background and the rise of the signal before the sample decay. Like for all techniques, there is a saturation limit for multi-channel scaling at high signals. It is important to note that this saturation limit is not proportional to the number of counts per second (cps), but instead to the number of counts detected in a narrow time bin. As it can be seen in Figure 1, the photon density can be quite high right after the exciting pulse and quite low at the end of a decay. In particular for short decays (nanoseconds and microseconds) the average of photons detected during one second can be low, whereas the photon density at the time and right after the pulse is so too high to be properly counted. This situation is particularly critical for the acquisition of the instrumental response function (IRF) by detecting the scattered light: A 1s time bin (full time range 1ms, 1000 channels) can only acquire a maximum of 10 photon counts per flash of the xenon lamp. The xenon lamp has a pulse width of approximately 1s, meaning that practically all photons detected will fall into that time bin of 1s. With a repetition rate of the xenon flash lamp of 100Hz, the maximum number of detected photons per second (in cps) is 1000! For long decaying samples (milliseconds) with acquisition in large time ranges and wide time bins, there will practically the same limitations as for steady state measurements (3 Million cps). Figure 2 shows graphically the count rate limits for sample decay measurements and measurements of instrumental response functions for two different repetition frequencies of the xenon flash lamp. Single exponential decays were assumed, and the time window was chosen to be 10 times the lifetime of the assumed decay. The situation become more critical for multiexponential decays (where a bigger number of photons is detected at short times) and for operation with laser excitation sources (where for an IRF measurements photons will fall into time intervals that are shorter than 1s.
0.5 full time range / ms 1
Sample Decay (100Hz)


100,000 counts / cps

Sample Decay (10Hz)

IRF (100Hz)

IRF (10Hz)


10 0 50 100 150 200 lifetim e / /s ms 250 300

Figure 2: Graphical demonstration of the saturation limits for sample decay measurements and measurements of instrumental response functions.

6.3.2. Acquiring data

A. Check the signal using the Signal Rate dialogue box. Ensure that the correct source has been selected (xenon flashlamp: F900H or F900, or alternative pulsed laser). The operation of a low repetition rate light source can usually be heat. Ensure excitation wavelength and emission wavelength have been appropriately selected. B. Having an understanding of the expected lifetime (or estimating the expected lifetime), review the pulse repetition rate of the light source. The pulse repetition period of the light source should not be shorter that 10 times the longest lifetime to be measured. If the pulse repetition rate of the light source needs to be changed, go to View / F Lamp setup to do this. C. Check the signal rate (in cps). Ensure that the signal is not saturated, taking into account the expected decay time (or the width of the IRF) and the lamp repetition rate, refer to the previous section. Change the amount of signal by adjusting the Iris Setting and/or the band width in excitation and emission ().

D. Close the signal rate screen and open the dialogue box for manual lifetime measurements (clicking the button on the tool button list and selecting Manual)

The dialogue box will appear on the right side of the F900 main panel and is divided into two dialogue fields. The field on the top will allow to start and stop measurements (NEW and STOP, respectively). It also will enable the user to either acquire the new data into the previous data window (Add on the very right side), or into a new data window (NEW very top right). Furthermore, a flag can be set prior to data acquisition, indicating whether the

measurement is an IRF measurement (tick-box IRF) or a normal sample decay (no tick in this box). The lower part in the upper dialogue field is in major parts a repetition of the signal rate screen. Parameters can be changed here, if needed. However, monitoring of the signal rate, affected by the change of these parameters, is not possible. The lower dialogue field is designed for setup of all measurement parameters. Time Range and Channels effect the full time window and the number of time bins within the full time range, respectively. Changing one of these two parameters will change the time calibration (in time/channel) that is displayed adjacent to these editable boxes. The Lamp Trigger Delay parameter will have an effect on the position of the rising edge of the measurement. An increase of the trigger delay value will cause a shift to the right. The Stop Conditions can be selected between Stop after a predefined number of sweeps (light source flashes), Stop after a predefined measurement time (in seconds) or Stop after a predefined number of counts. If the later stop condition has been selected, the option will be given to select a certain channel for which this stop condition will be valid. If this option is not chosen (box not ticked), the measurement will stop after the peak of the overall measurement has reached the stop condition. E. Start the measurement by clicking the NEW button. The measurement will stop when either the stop condition is reached, or when the STOP button is clicked. Please note: If the Stop at Peak stop condition has been selected, the measurement may take longer to acquire, as the computer will become busy to search through each data sweep to find the maximum peak count. Select the Sweeps or Time stop conditions to avoid this problem.