World's fastest camera freezes time at 10 trillion frames per second

October 12, 2018, Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS
The trillion-frame-per-second compressed ultrafast photography system. Credit: INRS

What happens when a new technology is so precise that it operates on a scale beyond our characterization capabilities? For example, the lasers used at INRS produce ultrashort pulses in the femtosecond range (10-15 s), which is far too short to visualize. Although some measurements are possible, nothing beats a clear image, says INRS professor and ultrafast imaging specialist Jinyang Liang. He and his colleagues, led by Caltech's Lihong Wang, have developed what they call T-CUP: the world's fastest camera, capable of capturing 10 trillion (1013) frames per second (Fig. 1). This new camera literally makes it possible to freeze time to see phenomena—and even light—in extremely slow motion.

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 in at a very short temporal resolution—in a single exposure.

Using current imaging techniques, measurements taken with must be repeated many times, which is appropriate for some types of inert samples, but impossible for other more fragile ones. For example, laser-engraved glass can tolerate only a single laser pulse, leaving less than a picosecond to capture the results. In such a case, the imaging technique must be able to capture the entire process in real time.

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.

Real-time imaging of temporal focusing of a femtosecond laser pulse at 2.5 Tfps. Credit: Jinyang Liang, Liren Zhu & Lihong V. Wang
"We knew that by using only a femtosecond streak camera, the image quality would be limited," says Professor Lihong Wang, the Bren Professor of Medial Engineering and Electrical Engineering at Caltech and the Director of Caltech Optical Imaging Laboratory (COIL). "So to improve this, we added another camera that acquires a static image. Combined with the image acquired by the streak camera, we can use what is called a Radon transformation to obtain high-quality images while recording ten trillion frames per second."

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 broke new ground by capturing the temporal focusing of a single in real time (Fig. 2). 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.

"It's an achievement in itself," says Jinyang Liang, the leading author of this work, who was an engineer in COIL when the research was conducted, "but we already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion (10 exp 15) frames per second!" Speeds like that are sure to offer insight into as-yet undetectable secrets of the interactions between light and matter.

Explore further: Physicists produce extremely short and specifically shaped electron pulses for materials studies

More information: Jinyang Liang et al, Single-shot real-time femtosecond imaging of temporal focusing, Light: Science & Applications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41377-018-0044-7

Related Stories

Imaging at the speed of light

July 1, 2016

Researchers have improved upon a new camera technology that can image at speeds about 100 times faster than today's commercial cameras while also capturing more image frames. The new technology opens a host of new possibilities ...

Imaging at the speed of light

March 14, 2017

Tiny micro- and nanoscale structures within a material's surface are invisible to the naked eye, but play a big role in determining a material's physical, chemical, and biomedical properties.

Improving the femtosecond ultrashort pulse laser

November 21, 2017

MXenes, conductive materials widely used in many industries, now have one more promising application: helping lasers fire extremely short femtosecond pulses, which last just millionths of a billionth of a second. The finding, ...

Recommended for you

Researchers study interactions in molecules using AI

October 19, 2018

Researchers from the University of Luxembourg, Technische Universität Berlin, and the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society have combined machine learning and quantum mechanics to predict the dynamics and atomic ...

Pushing the extra cold frontiers of superconducting science

October 18, 2018

Measuring the properties of superconducting materials in magnetic fields at close to absolute zero temperatures is difficult, but necessary to understand their quantum properties. How cold? Lower than 0.05 Kelvin (-272°C).

The big problem of small data: A new approach

October 18, 2018

Big Data is all the rage today, but Small Data matters too! Drawing reliable conclusions from small datasets, like those from clinical trials for rare diseases or in studies of endangered species, remains one of the trickiest ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

3.6 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2018
"but we already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion (10 exp 15) frames per second!"

Not too shabby...
5 / 5 (4) Oct 12, 2018
who needs a super computer for protein folding, just watch it in slow mo on youtube!
5 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2018
This is somewhat misleading. While this implementation of compressed ultrafast photography shows a 2 orders of magnitude increase in frame-rate, it is still restricted to light-phenomena itself: eg. spatial resolution of the flight of light-pulses, or the rise and decay of fluorescence in materials.

It would not be used for, say, the impact of artificial micrometeorites at 10 km/sec on metal. In short, you wouldn't be imaging (insert irrationally-non-permitted italics here —>) objects.
5 / 5 (4) Oct 12, 2018
protein folding...
It doesn't image things in action, only temporally and/or spatially changing light phenomena.
3 / 5 (4) Oct 14, 2018
Imaging in human retina's

It's only possible to see a femto second laser pulse from the reflected laser light passing through the air molecules
Whereas on the other hand, our retina in our eye ball can detect single photons and send that photon as a signal down our optic fibre, where our brain for want of sanity after 2 or 3 of these single photons, allows us to see it as a flash of light, it does this so were not continuously seeing flashes of light
Why go to extremes in imaging when we have 2 eye balls with retinas constructed at the atomic limit possible, with optic fibres connected to a far superior computational brain no bigger than your fist

We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2018
new virtual reality may be an outcome of this tech too
not rated yet Oct 15, 2018
This has the resolution necessary to test "spooky action at a distance", even for small distances.
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 15, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.


Just think about what you wrote there granville.
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.


Just think about what you wrote there granville.
why have you never seen virtual or real particle decay at night
3 / 5 (4) Oct 16, 2018
I was sleeping.
not rated yet Oct 16, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.

Just think about what you wrote there granville.

It is literally true Ojorf, our retinas can detect single photons where our visual system in our brains discounts 2 or 3 photons so we do not continually see flashes of light
not rated yet Oct 16, 2018
Frog photoreceptor counts photons

A single rod photoreceptor cell taken from the eye of a frog has been fashioned into an extremely sensitive detector that can count individual photons and determine the coherence of extremely weak pulses of light. Created by researchers in Singapore, the work leads to hybrid light detectors that incorporate living cells.

The eyes of humans and other living organisms are extremely sensitive and versatile detectors of light, which can often outperform man-made devices. Indeed, a rod photoreceptor cell in the human retina will respond to just one photon
Physics World is a mine of imfomation Ojorf
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (1) Oct 17, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses. [sic]

No we don't. We "see" the excitation of rhodopsin by photons. The rhodopsin bleaches when a photon is absorbed, which triggers a cascade of chemical reactions that result in a nervous impulse in the neural network that overlays the retina. This network comes together at the fovea and from there, transitions into the optic nerve which for each eye, bifurcates into a left and right path to the respective hemispheres. In other words, we actually have four distinct optical nerve paths- one each from each side of each eyeball.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.