Ultra Slow Motion Camera Captures Light at One Trillion Times Per Second

Paul Lilly

MIT's Media Lab has taken slow motion video to a whole new level by building a system capable of capturing moving subjects at 1 trillions frames a second, fast enough to capture pulses of light parading through a 1-liter soda bottle. Light travels at about 671 million miles per hour, but it can't outrun MIT's custom camera setup, nor can anything else in the universe.

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera," said Andreas Velten , a postdoctoral researcher at the MIT Media Lab.

MIT's setup uses a recent technology called a streak camera, which captures light-photons through a narrow slit. Late-arriving photos are deflected more than early-arriving ones. This produces a two-dimensional image, only one of which is spatial. The other dimension -- the one corresponding to the degree of deflection -- is time, so the image represents the time of arrival of photons passing through a one-dimensional slice of space, MIT explains.

In order to produce super slow motion videos, Velten and his team had to constantly reposition the streak camera as multiple pulses of light traveled through the bottle, a process that gradually built up a two-dimensional image. The process is better explained (and visualized) in the embedded video above.

Best use scenarios from a practical standpoint are applications where light scatters or bounces around as it strikes various surfaces. An ultrasound with light is one potential application, though MIT Media Lab Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar sees it also being used in everything from industrial and scientific applications to consumer photography.

Image Credit: M. Scott Brauer, MIT

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