World’s fastest camera shoots at 156.3 trillion frames per second

Engineers at INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications Research Centre in Canada have developed the world’s fastest camera, which can shoot at an astonishing 156.3 trillion frames per second (fps).

The best slow-mo cameras in phones are usually working with a few hundred fps. Professional cinematic cameras might use a few thousand, to achieve a smoother effect. But if you want to see what’s going on at the nanoscale, you’ll need to slow things way down, to the billions or even trillions of frames per second.

The new camera can reportedly capture events that occur in the realm of femtoseconds – quadrillionths of a second. For reference, there’s about as many of those in one second as there are seconds in 32 million years.

The researchers built on technology they developed as far back as 2014, known as compressed ultrafast photography (CUP) which could capture a now paltry-seeming 100 billion fps. The next stage was called T-CUP, with the T standing for “Trillion-frame-per-second” – which was, true to its word, capable of up to 10 trillion fps. And then in 2020, the team bumped it up to 70 trillion fps with a version called compressed ultrafast spectral photography (CUSP).

Now, the researchers have more than doubled it again, to a mind-boggling 156.3 trillion frames per second. The new camera system is called “swept-coded aperture real-time femtophotography” (SCARF), which can capture events that happen too fast for even the previous versions of the tech to see. That includes things like shock waves moving through matter or living cells.

The SCARF system, the world's fastest camera, in the lab
The SCARF system, the world’s fastest camera, in the lab


SCARF works by first firing off a “chirped” ultrashort pulse of laser light, which passes through the event or object being imaged. If you picture the light as a rainbow, the red wavelengths will capture the event first, followed by orange, yellow, and down the spectrum to violet. Because the event is happening so quickly, by the time each successive “color” reaches it, it looks different, allowing the pulse to capture the whole thing changing over an incredibly short period of time.

This light pulse is then run through a gauntlet of components that focus, reflect, diffract and encode it, until it finally reaches the sensor of a charge-coupled device (CCD) camera. This then converts into data that can be reconstructed by a computer into the final image.

While it’s unlikely us regular Joes will be watching high-speed videos of balloons popping that have been captured by SCARF systems, the researchers say capturing new ultrafast phenomena could help improve fields like physics, biology, chemistry, materials science and engineering.

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.

Source: INRS

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