In order to capture slow-motion footage in which a bullet can actually be seen traveling through the air, a camera has to film at a speed somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 frames per second. Given that as a benchmark, what would be the purpose of a camera that manages a whopping 4.5 million fps? In the case of the UK-based Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)'s new X-ray camera, it's to obtain three-dimensional images of individual molecules.

The camera is being created for use in the European XFEL (X-ray Free-Electron Laser) facility, to which it should be delivered next year. Due to begin operations in 2015, the XFEL will use superconducting accelerator technology to produce X-ray flashes a billion times brighter than those created by conventional methods.

These intense flashes will make it possible to get three-dimensional images of molecules, although each flash will last less than one hundred million billionth of a second. Conventional X-ray cameras are designed to obtain images from a constant beam of X-rays, not a stunningly intense microburst - hence the ultra-high-speed STFC camera.

Once in use, it is hoped that images captured by the camera could help scientists to do things such as map the atomic details of viruses, pinpoint the molecular composition of individual cells, and better understand matter and its behavior.

The STFC is collaborating with the University of Glasgow on development of the device.