Slow-motion video has always been fun to watch, with the best rigs usually shooting on the scale of thousands of frames per second. But now the world's fastest camera, developed by researchers at Caltech and INRS, blows them out of the water, capturing the world at a mind-boggling 10 trillion frames per second – fast enough to probe the nanoscale interactions between light and matter.
Last year, the record belonged to a Swedish team with a five-trillion-fps camera, which was itself an improvement of an earlier 4.4-trillion fps system. The new camera casually doubles the previous record-holder, which could make it easier to peer at the nanoscale world with greater "temporal" resolution.
For the new imaging technique, the team started with compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), a method that it is capable of 100 billion fps. That's nothing to scoff at by itself, but it's still not fast enough to really capture what's going on with ultrafast laser pulses, which occur on the scale of femtoseconds. A femtosecond, for reference, is one quadrillionth of a second.
So the team built on that technology by combining a femtosecond streak camera and a static camera, and running it through a data acquisition technique known as Radon transformation. This advanced system was dubbed T-CUP.
"We knew that by using only a femtosecond streak camera, the image quality would be limited," says Lihong Wang, co-lead author of the study. "So to improve this, we added another camera that acquires a static image. Combined with the image acquired by the femtosecond streak camera, we can use what is called a Radon transformation to obtain high-quality images while recording ten trillion frames per second."
For the first test, the camera proved its worth by capturing a single femtosecond pulse of laser light, recording 25 images that were each 400 femtoseconds apart. Through this process, the team could see the changes in the light pulse's shape, intensity and angle of inclination, in much slower motion than ever before.
That can help us see ever-shorter events, which may eventually unlock new secrets in the superfast worlds of physics and biology. And of course, the team has no plans to stop at 10 trillion fps.
"It's an achievement in itself," says Jinyang Liang, lead author of the study. "But we already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion frames per second!"
The research was published in the journal Light: Science & Applications.
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