Ultrafast Camera snaps transparent objects at 1 trillion fps

Caltech scientists have invented an ultrafast camera that is capable of taking 1 trillion frames per second of transparent objects. The invention comes after the university created a camera so fast that it could capture light in slow motion about a decade ago. The camera is called phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography or pCUP.The camera is so fast that it can not only take a video of transparent objects, it can also take photos of ephemeral subjects like shockwaves and possibly the signals that travel through neurons. The new system combines high-speed photography that was developed previously with phase-contrast microscopy.

That type of microscopy was designed to allow improved imaging of mostly transparent objects, like cells. The fast imaging portion of the system uses lossless encoding compressed ultrafast technology called LLE-CUP. The technique takes a single shot and captures all motion that occurs during the time that shot takes to complete.

Since it only takes a single shot, LLE-CUP is capable of capturing motion like the movement of light that is too fast to be imaged by conventional technology. In testing, the team used the technique to demonstrate pCUP by imaging the spread of a shockwave through water and of a laser pulse through a piece of crystalline material.

The tech is in its early stages but could prove useful in many fields, including physics, biology, or chemistry. The technique may allow scientists to see the communication of neurons in real-time. The technique could also enable scientists to watch how a flame front spreads in a combustion chamber. The development of the tech is ongoing and was funded by the National Instituted of Health.