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

Unique insights into an exotic matter state

December 19, 2018

The properties of matter are typically the result of complex interactions between electrons. These electrically charged particles are one of the fundamental building blocks of nature. They are well researched, and theoretical ...

Focus on this: Team increases X-ray laser focusing ability

December 19, 2018

An X-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) is an X-ray produced by a beam of free electrons that have been accelerated almost to the speed of light. XFELs produce laser beams with exceedingly high peak power intensity, which makes ...

17 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Ojorf
3.9 / 5 (7) 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...
Bosenova
5 / 5 (4) Oct 12, 2018
who needs a super computer for protein folding, just watch it in slow mo on youtube!
danR
5 / 5 (2) 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.
danR
5 / 5 (5) Oct 12, 2018
protein folding...
It doesn't image things in action, only temporally and/or spatially changing light phenomena.
granville583762
3.7 / 5 (6) 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.
savvys84
1 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2018
new virtual reality may be an outcome of this tech too
jpdemers
4 / 5 (1) Oct 15, 2018
This has the resolution necessary to test "spooky action at a distance", even for small distances.
Ojorf
4 / 5 (9) Oct 15, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.


LOL

Just think about what you wrote there granville.
savvys84
1 / 5 (2) Oct 16, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.


LOL

Just think about what you wrote there granville.
why have you never seen virtual or real particle decay at night
Ojorf
3 / 5 (6) Oct 16, 2018
I was sleeping.
granville583762
5 / 5 (3) Oct 16, 2018
We actually see single photons in flight, a feat these cameras do not appear to posses.

LOL
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
granville583762
5 / 5 (3) 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
https://physicswo...photons/
Physics World is a mine of imfomation Ojorf
Phyllis Harmonic
5 / 5 (2) 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.
Kweden
5 / 5 (1) Oct 23, 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.


Well, technically we don't see that either. What we see is a perceptual translation of a mental schemata based on our expectation, experiences, desire, and interest, which is theorized to be caused by multiple brain-based neuronal firing structures. We don't see or sense anything the sensory-receptors detect or how they fire--we sense only perceptions.
Kweden
not rated yet Oct 23, 2018
Such as this could be developed to answer shrodinky's quandary. By using multiple devices with their frame rates offset from each the other as the observers of the experiment, it could be answered how photons move through slits.
[you folks have the means & connections to do it--I don't.]
btw--someone should extend that experiment to include 3 slits, cuz when they move from 1 to 2 the beam is split, but with 3 the original pass thru slit is still where it was. [Maybe they should use a femto laser.
Kweden
not rated yet Oct 23, 2018
Extra credit: How many of you, after reading that I wrote, realized within 10 minutes that it was also a way to increase the frames per second?
[If any finds my mind interesting or helpful enough; I desperately need money, and if you feed me yourself, I eat only organic and drink distilled water or wine.]
Want to be the first to do 50 trillion frames per second?
victormorris
not rated yet Nov 12, 2018
Amazing. Most likely an indication our commercial technology such as surveillance cameras and smartphone cameras, etc. will see even greater strides such as resolution in giga-pixels and so forth. Who knows... One day may be able to zoom in to an object from your phone up to half a mile away with UHD clarity. Pixelation may soon be a thing of the past.

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.