Japanese scientists have developed a new high speed camera, capable of capturing over 4 trillion frames per second. The camera uses a new method, femtophotography, to achieve those speeds.
High speed cameras, capable of shooting thousands of frames of video per second, allows us to see things in a way we normally can’t. For you and me, high speed footage is a window into the weird and fantastic world of what happens when you shoot an egg, or pop a water balloon.
For researchers, it also serves as an important way to study physical phenomena, such as shock waves and mechanical processes. That’s why researchers from Keio University and the University of Tokyo, in Japan, have spent three years developing a new high speed camera that puts its predecessors to shame. The new camera, capable of shooting 4.4 trillion frames per second, outperforms its competition by a thousand times.
The research team has published their work in the journal Nature Photonics, where they explain how the camera works and the possible applications for its use. Until the development of the new camera, high speed cameras made use of what is known as time resolved spectroscopy. Light is ‘pumped’ at an object that one wants to photograph and is then ‘probed’ for absorption. The drawback with that method is that it requires repeated measurements of smaller parts to construct a larger image, thus taking more time.
The new method uses motion-based femtophotography, which relies on single bursts of image acquisition. This means no repeated measurements need to be taken, and explains why the new method is so much faster than the old one. The camera works by mapping out the spatial profile, that is, the position and shape of the object in space, as it varies over time.
Here’s a rough schematic of how the new camera works.
The camera, dubbed Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography, or STAMP, also has a high resolution of 450×450 pixels (we’re talking high resolution compared to other cameras used in physics, not, say, compared to a GoPro). The researchers hope to use STAMP to capture processes previously unseen by science. Among these are chemical reactions, lattice vibrational waves, plasma dynamics, even heat conduction. The latter, according to the scientists, usually takes place at one sixth the speed of light.
At the moment, the researchers are asking for continued funding to develop the camera further. They would like to make it more compact (it currently takes up a square meter of space), which would allow more applications for its use. It could, for example, be used in the electronic industry to help monitor the production of materials like semiconductors. It may even be useful in the medical field.