Most large telescopes are now implementing sodium laser guide star (LGS) adaptive optics (AO) systems. Most of these systems plan to use the Shack-Hartmann approach for wavefront sensing. In these systems, the laser spots that are imaged in the Shack-Hartmann subapertures suffer spot elongation due to the 10 km extent of the sodium layer. The spot elongation extends radially from the projection point, and increases linearly with the distance the subaperture is separated from the laser. For 8-meter class telescopes with laser projection behind the secondary mirror, the spot elongation is ~1 arc sec at the edge of the pupil, and does not significantly affect the performance of the AO system. However, for the coming generation of extremely large telescopes, sodium LGS spot elongation will significantly degrade the quality of wavefront measurement. Attention should now be given to the development of technologies that can reduce or eliminate the spot elongation problem. The laser spot elongation can be greatly reduced by projecting the sodium laser in a series of short (1-3 μsec) pulses. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has been funded to develop a pulsed fiber laser. In parallel, a new kind of wavefront sensor detector must be developed to properly sense the pulsed laser return. In this paper, we present our project that will develop a novel CCD which is optimized for sensing the return from a pulsed sodium LGS. Our CCD design uses custom pixel morphology that aligns the pixels of each subaperture with the radial extension of the LGS spot. This pixel geometry will allow each subaperture to follow the yellow-orange rabbit (i.e. the 589 nm laser pulse) as it traverses the sodium layer, providing optimal sampling of a limited number of detected photons. This CCD will attain photon-noise limited performance at high frame rates, using MOSFET amplifiers that exist today (2-3 electrons noise). However, we seek even lower noise amplifiers, and as part of our project, we are testing a new generation of JFET amplifiers that may attain sub-electron noise performance. The test CCD will be a standard geometry, 160x160 pixel image area with split frame transfer and a total of 20 readout ports. This test CCD will easily surpass the performance of the CCDs presently in use in astronomical AO systems, and should provide a significant performance improvement in the AO systems of the 8-10 meter telescopes. This project is a collaboration between the Keck Observatory, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, SciMeasure Analytical Systems, Gemini Observatory, Lick Observatory, the University of California, and the Rockwell Scientific Company. Our efforts are being coordinated with the developments at LLNL so that the pulsed laser and novel geometry CCD can be mated together in 3 years when both are fully developed.© (2004) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.