Researchers at MIT have developed a new kind of camera, one that can capture a trillion frames per second. At those speeds, actual photons of light can be identified and studied. While the MIT camera can eventually create a moving picture, it takes a ton of work to get that movie together.
The new camera builds on a new technology, called a streak camera, that records light through a tiny slit. The camera winds up recording one horizontal line, but with 500 sensors in the camera allowing the camera to record movies at a trillion frames per second.
The resulting images are two-dimensional, as noted in this MIT news article, but only one of those dimensions are spatial. This is fine for most research purposes, as the camera will record changes in intensity or direction, but it isn’t very useful in composing videos. By slightly adjusting the camera and running the sequence over and over again, researchers can piece together hundreds of thousands of data sets in order to create a small video, which you can see in this MSNBC article.
Apart from making super-slo-mo videos, the camera does allow for new experiments that involve how light reacts with certain objects, and may even be able to analyze physical structures in a similar manner that ultrasound currently works. Regardless of any current applications, a camera that works this quickly will certainly pave the way for future experiments into the nuts and bolts of how light works.
Anyone interested in science went through a bit of a revelation that first time they fully understood that light wasn’t a constant, but actually moved through space. The fact that this new MIT camera can actually capture the movement of light through a small space, combined with the clarity of the video, make for a truly interesting experience.