Microscopy > Components > FastFLIM


FastFLIM is the data acquisition card for your FLIM acquisition when acquisition time is of the essence. The card has been developed using Digital Frequency Domain (DFD) technique that allows for the acquisition of Time-Tagged-Time-Resolved (TTTR) data without the dead time typical of TCSPC approach. The 4 independent input channels can be configured for accepting signals from PMTs and/or APDs. The design allows for maximum FLIM data acquisition of up to 80x106 counts/second/channel for two channels simultaneously, or 40x106 counts/second/channel for four channels simultaneously. Decay times from the picosecond to the second time scales can be resolved (FLIM and PLIM). In addition to the fitting analysis, the FLIM data acquired by FastFLIM can be directly used for phasor plots without any distortion. The card is supported by drivers in Windows 10/11, 64-bit, through the USB connection.

  • Time-Tagged-Phase-Resolved lifetime measurements
  • Single-wavelength FLIM, multi-wavelength FLIM
  • Single-wavelength PLIM, multi-wavelength PLIM
  • Confocal images
  • Polarization images (steady-state and time-resolved)
  • Scanning FCS, RICS, N&B
  • Stoichiometry
  • Single Molecule FRET
  • PIE measurements
  • 4-channel simultaneous acquisition
  • Direct input from PMTs and APDs (or a combination of the two)
  • Photon count rate up to 109 counts/second
  • Dead time 1.5625 ns
  • Trigger out to synchronize external devices
  • Trigger input from external source
  • Line and Frame CLK synchronization
  • USB 3.0 communication
  • Drivers for Windows 7/10/11, 64-bit, OS
FastFLIM is covered by US Patent 8,330,123; other patents are pending.

How It Works in an Instrument
A schematic of the instrument is reported in the Figure below. The signal from the photomultiplier tubes (PMTs) is directed to the FastFLIM unit. Also, the FRAME CLK, or LINE CLK signal, comes from the scanning mirror unit of the confocal microscope.

The FastFLIM unit is utilized as an upgrade for commercial Laser Scanning Microscopes (LSM) by Nikon, Olympus, Zeiss and Leica. Also, it can be utilized as a stand-alone unit for assembling a custom-built FLIM instrument.

The Measurements of Fluorescence Decay Times
Fluorescence is the light emitted by molecules in solution (or in a solid or gaseous state) following the absorption of radiation. Upon excitation with a short pulse of light of very short duration, the fluorescence emitted by the sample is described by the relationship:


where I0 is the intensity of the fluorescence at time t=0 and is the time it takes the intensity to decrease to a value its original value. The value is called the "fluorescence decay time". In a multi-components environment, the fluorescence is described by the relationship:


where the coefficients αii), called the pre-exponential factors and the decay times τi characterize fluorescence decay of the i component of the mixture. These parameters can be related to the fractional contributions, defined as the fraction of the total fluorescence emitted by the i component of the mixture:


In specific measurement situations the decay time of fluorescence is best described by non-exponential relationships. In any experimental case, devices measuring the fluorescence decay times provide the values i, τi) and any other parameter that describes the fluorescence decay times of each component in a mixture.

Frequency-domain and Time-domain Techniques
The instrumentation for the measurement of fluorescence decays times is broadly classified in two groups, time-domain and frequency-domain techniques.

The time-domain technique uses time correlated single photon counting (TCSPC). Usually, a laser emitting short pulses which repeat with a period slightly longer than the common fluorescence lifetime is used as the excitation light source, although other light sources (LEDs, synchrotron radiation, pulsed lamps) can be utilized as well. At the arrival of each pulse, a high precision timer is triggered which records how much time has passed between the arrival of the excitation pulse and the emitted photon. The precision of the technique is determined by the accuracy of the clock. Either a time-to-amplitude converter (TAC) or a GHz digital clock can be employed.

To interpret the lifetime time information obtained by TCSPC device a histogram of such arrival times is built. For a single exponential decay, a curve similar to the one of Equation [1] is collected and the decay time τ is determined using a minimization technique to fit the experimental data to the theoretical decay model. For multiple exponential decays, a curve similar to Equation [2] is built; the decay times of the components are determined using a minimization technique to fit the theoretical decay model to the experimental data.

For microscopy applications, the TCSPC acquisition electronics is synchronized to the scanning device (usually galvo-controlled mirrors or piezo-controlled stages), and the histogram acquisition restarts for each pixel of the image.

Frequency domain technique requires the modulation of the excitation light source. The modulated excitation results in a modulated fluorescence with a phase and modulation which is dependent on the lifetime of the excited fluorophores (see Figure below).

From the phase and modulation of the Δω frequency, the phase and the modulation of the fluorescence can be calculated relative to that of a reference lifetime. The lifetime is deduced from the phase and modulation:



Representation of the emission light (EM) following the excitation (EX) with a modulated beam. DC and AC are the direct and alternate components of the light.

The instruments utilized in frequency domain technique are called multifrequency phase fluorometers (MPF) or, simply, frequency domain fluorometers. When using a MPF to determine the characteristic decay times of the fluorescence, the excitation light source is modulated at a frequency ω; the phase shift Φ and the modulation m are measured. Such measurements are repeated at several different values of the modulation frequency, ω ranging typically from two or three for a single exponential decay, to up to about twenty five for multiple exponential decays. The decay times τi are determined using a minimization technique to fit the experimental data.

What is the Digital Frequency Domain (DFD)?
In digital heterodyning the cross-correlation frequency ƒcc is the difference between the sampling frequency utilized to probe the collect the data and the excitation frequency of the light source, that is:


It is convenient to have for ƒcc a value that is an integer fraction of the sampling frequency; in our implementation we use:


The advantages of DFD over AFD are multiple:
• There is no need to modulate the light detector
• The duty cycle is 100% therefore improving the sensitivity of the measurement.

Feature Description
Architecture USB 3.0
CLK frequency 640 MHz
No. of INPUT channels 4 independent channels
Input voltage range From PMTs and/or APDs (-1V ~ +5V, 50Ω)
Decay times measurement PLIM and FLIM: 100 picoseconds to 100 milliseconds
Dead Time 1.56 ns
External CLK IN 10 ~ 80 MHz (LVTTL / TTL, 50Ω)
Reference CLK OUT 0.0596 Hz – 80 MHz, Amplitude: + 1.2 & 1.8 V (50Ω)
Reference SYNC OUT 20 MHz 50% duty cycle, Amplitude: + 2.5 V (50Ω)
LINE/FRAME/PIXEL Scan Synchronization w/ scanner
Data handling and storage Acquisition of raw data for FCS, FCCS, PCH, smFRET, burst.
On-line processing or post-processing
Raw data size 32 bits
Raw data file structure Binary File with a header of 256 bytes
Max signal in Counts
(steady-state intensity only)
109 counts / second
(250 x 106 counts/sec per channel for 4 channels simultaneously)
Max signal in FCS & FLIM
(time tagged & time tagged time resolved – TTTR)
160 x 106 counts / second
(80 x 106 counts/sec per channel for 2 channels simultaneously)
(40 x 106 counts/sec per channel for 4 channels simultaneously)
Mechanical & Electrical
Power 120/240 V, 50/60 Hz, 40 W
Dimensions (cm) 42.5 (W) x 36 (D) x 10 (H)