Scientists Invent Camera That Takes One Trillion Frames per Second to Capture 'Transparent Phenomena'

New camera technology that takes up to 1 trillion frames per second is so advanced it can take images of transparent phenomena, U.S. researchers say. The camera builds on previous research, in which the team used the technology to capture light traveling in slow motion.

The cutting-edge camera can capture motion such as shockwaves and possibly even the signals that travel through neurons—but don't expect to get your hands on one anytime soon. The tech is early in development and intended to be used in fields such as physics, biology and chemistry.

Development is being led by Lihong Wang, professor of medical engineering and electrical engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

The newly unveiled system combines a previously-developed high-speed photography camera with an older technology known as "phase-contrast microscopy," which produces clearer images of transparent objects by analyzing how light changes speed as it comes into contact with materials.

"What we've done is to adapt standard phase-contrast microscopy so that it provides very fast imaging, which allows us to image ultrafast phenomena in transparent materials," a comment attributed to Professor Wang said in a Caltech release.

The system should be able to produce better images of hard-to-capture objects that contain a high degree of transparency, such as water-based cells, experts said.

Wang previously unveiled a camera that was capable of taking 10 trillion frames per second and capturing light traveling in slow motion. The new camera builds on that research, Caltech said. A paper on the new technology appeared in the journal Science Advances on January 17.

Unlike traditional cameras, the new tech captures motion, including the movement of light. The system takes a single shot that records "all the motion that occurs during the time that shot takes to complete." The team was able to take an image of a shockwave traveling through water.

The research paper said there is currently a "growing interest" in being able to capture images of ultrafast phenomena in transparent objects, including detailing shockwaves and neurons.

"The application of phase imaging covers a vast range of fields, including biological microscopy, optical metrology, and astronomy," researchers wrote in the published paper.

The tech-savvy Caltech team continued: "Recent advances in phase imaging have also reached a breakthrough where these imaging techniques can now break the diffraction limit and achieve high-resolution unlabeled imaging of transparent objects in three dimensions.

"By challenging the limits of imaging, phase imaging has now become essential for new scientific discoveries, especially in biological sciences, by allowing label-free optical detection of nanoscale subcellular activities." Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health.

The co-authors on the latest paper were Taewoo Kim, a postdoctoral scholar in medical engineering, and Jinyang Liang and Liren Zhu, both formerly of Caltech, the renowned institute said.

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A shockwave created by a laser striking water propagates in slow motion, as captured by a new ultrafast photography technology. Caltech