World’s Fastest Camera Freezes Time at 10 Trillion Frames Per Second

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The rapid (and ongoing) advances in science and technology have led to inventions that, only a few years ago, would’ve seemed impossible. With everything from lights to doorbells going smart today, nothing seems surprising enough. But then, every once in a while, something truly amazing comes up and makes us gasp in awe. Well, meet T-CUP, the world’s fastest camera that can shoot an astounding 10 trillion frames per second.

In recent years, the junction between innovations in non-linear optics and imaging has opened the door for new and highly efficient methods for microscopic analysis of dynamic phenomena in biology and physics. But harnessing the potential of these methods requires a way to record images in real time at a very short temporal resolution in a single exposure. Using current imaging techniques, measurements taken with ultrashort laser pulses must be repeated many times, which is appropriate for some types of inert samples, but impossible for other more fragile ones.

Compressed ultrafast photography (CUP) was a good starting point. At 100 billion frames per second, this method approached, but did not meet, the specifications required to integrate femtosecond lasers. To improve on the concept, the new T-CUP system was developed based on a femtosecond streak camera that also incorporates a data acquisition type used in applications such as tomography. Setting the world record for real-time imaging speed, T-CUP can power a new generation of microscopes for biomedical, materials science, and other applications.

This camera represents a fundamental shift, making it possible to analyze interactions between light and matter at an unparalleled temporal resolution. The first time it was used, the ultrafast camera broke new ground by capturing the temporal focusing of a single femtosecond laser pulse in real time. This process was recorded in 25 frames taken at an interval of 400 femtoseconds and detailed the light pulse’s shape, intensity, and angle of inclination.

“We knew that by using only a femtosecond streak camera, the image quality would be limited. So to improve this, we added another camera that acquires a static image. Combined with the image acquired by the femtosecond streak camera, we can use what is called a Radon transformation to obtain high-quality images while recording ten trillion frames per second,” said Lihong Wang, the Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Caltech.