Ultrafast Camera Can Capture 1 Trillion Snaps Per Second of Transparent Objects

Lihong Wang created the ultrafast camera last year, and has been working on this new version ever since.
Fabienne Lang
A shockwave created by a laser captured by the cameraCaltech

If building an ultrafast camera that can snap 10 trillion pictures per second wasn't impressive enough, the creator has now outdone himself. 

Caltech's Lihong Wang invented last year's speedy camera and has since decided to take it up a notch and invent a new camera that captures pictures of objects it can't even see.


This camera can take up to 1 trillion pictures per second of transparent objects. 

Details of the camera were printed in the journal Science Advances on January 17. 

Taking pictures of shockwaves

Wang calls his camera technology phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography, or pCup. This photography tech can take a video of transparent objects as well as phenomena such as shockwaves and even signals going through neurons. 

A blue dot on a black background spreads outward, indicating an expanding shockwave in water.
A shockwave created by a laser striking water propagates in slow motion, as captured by a new ultrafast photography technology, Source: Caltech

Wang is able to do this by using the ultrafast imaging system he created for last year's model, and an older technology called phase-contrast microscopy

First invented by Dutch physicist in 1934 Frits Zernike, this technology is a contrast-enhancing optical technique that can produce high-contrast images of transparent objects, such as cells, microorganisms, or glass fragments.

"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," explained Wang.

A green beam travels from left to right across a black background.
A pulse of laser light travels through a crystal in slow motion, as captured by a new ultrafast photography technology, Source: Caltech

Wang demonstrated his new technology by capturing the spread of a shockwave as it went through water, and a laser pulse as it went through a piece of crystalline material. 

Wang and his colleagues are hopeful that their technology will be useful is a number of fields including physics, biology, and chemistry. 

"As signals travel through neurons, there is a minute dilation of nerve fibers that we hope to see. If we have a network of neurons, maybe we can see their communication in real-time," Wang explained. Furthermore, as the temperature is known to change phase contrast, the system "may be able to image how a flame front spreads in a combustion chamber."

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