super fast camera at MIT
Light in Motion - Source: MIT

A brand new camera developed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology can photograph a trillion frames per second. Compare that with a conventional film camera which takes a mere 24. This new development in photographic technology has given scientists the power to photograph the motion of the fastest thing in the Universe, light. In the video below, you’ll see experimental footage of light photons traveling at approximately 965 million-kilometers-per-hour (that’s roughly 600 million mph) through water. The actual event occurred in a mere nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it all the way down to twenty seconds. For some perspective, according to New York Times author, John Markoff, “If a bullet had been tracked in the identical fashion moving through the same fluid, the ensuing film would last 3 years.”

“Beyond the potential in educational & artistic visualization, applications for this include industrial imaging to analyze faults and material properties, scientific imaging for understanding ultra-fast processes and medical imaging to reconstruct sub-surface elements, i.e., ‘ultrasound with light’ [i.e. it can even allow photographing hidden or blocked elements, as shown in the video below]. In addition, the photon path analysis will allow new forms of computational photography, e.g., to render and re-light photos using computer graphics techniques.”

It’s not possible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each picture. The method has been called femto-photography by the research team and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project at MIT, “There’s nothing within the universe that looks fast to this camera.” According to the paper, “We use an indirect ‘stroboscopic‘ method that records millions of repeated measurements by careful scanning in time and viewpoints. Then we rearrange the data to create a ‘movie’ of a nanosecond long event.”




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