Researchers create world's fastest camera

The new high-speed camera can literally freeze time with its ability to capture 10 trillion frames per sec

Photo: INRS Prototype of the high-speed camera

Researchers at Caltech and the INRS branch of the University of Quebec in Canada have invented what is now the world's fastest camera, which takes the mind-blowing amount 10 trillion shots per second - enough to record footage of a pulse of light as it travels through space.

In recent years, the junction between innovations in non-linear optics and imaging has opened the door for new and highly efficient methods for microscopic analysis of dynamic phenomena in biology and physics. However, harnessing the potential of these methods requires a way to record images in real time at a very short temporal resolution — in a single exposure. 

Thus, the extraordinary camera, which the researchers described in a paper published earlier this month in the journal Light: Science & Applications, builds on a technology called compressed ultrafast photography (CUP). The so-called CUP can lock down an impressive 100bn frames per second, but by simultaneously recording a static image and performing some math, the researchers were able to reconstruct 10 trillion frames. They now call the new technique T-CUP.

T-CUP doubles the previous record speed for a camera, beating out Lund University’s FRAME camera from 2017, and is able to freeze time in order to see and study things that are traditionally too fast to visualize — things like laser pulses can be seen in slow motion.

It even broke already new ground in its first shoot by capturing “the temporal focusing of a single femtosecond laser pulse in real time,” INRS said after the camera managed capturing 25 frames at an interval of 400 femtoseconds (one femtosecond is 1/1,000,000,000,000,000, or one quadrillionth, of a second), revealing the light pulse’s shape, intensity, and angle of inclination.

Setting the world record for real-time imaging speed, the camera's inventors now hope it'll be useful in biomedical and materials research since the advance may offer insight into as-yet undetectable secrets of the interactions between light and matter at an unparalleled temporal resolution.

Meanwhile, researchers have already turned their attention to smashing their newly set record.

“It’s an achievement in itself, but we already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion frames per second!” said Jinyang Liang, who was an engineer in COIL when the research was conducted.

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