updated 11:25 am EST, Tue December 13, 2011
MIT shows off one trillion FPS camera and laser
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have showed off a camera system that can capture images at an unprecedented visual data rate of one trillion frames per second. The research is detailed in the latest issue of MITnews. At the heart of the system is a streak camera modified with a narrowly slit aperture.
"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera," said Media Lab postdoc Andreas Velten, one of the system's developers.
Particles of light called photons enter the camera and pass through an electric field, which deflects them perpendicular to the slit. The quickly-changing electric field deflects late arriving photons in a larger degree than those that arrive earlier. This makes a two-dimensional image, though only one is spatial. The other corresponds to time and the two show the arrival of photons passing through one-dimensional space.
These properties make the technology ideal in experiments where light passes through or is emitted by a chemical sample. Chemists are usually only interested in the wavelengths of light that a sample absorbs or in how the intensity of the emitted light changes over time so the one spatial dimension is not important.
The camera system can't produce video easily, however. Velten, who is the Media Lab Associate Professor, Ramesh Raskar and Moungi Bawendi, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Chemistry, need to perform the same experiment multiple times in order to collect enough information for a video from multiple angles. The light takes a nanosecond to scatter through a bottle, but it takes an hour to collect all the data for the final video.
The streak camera and laser that makes the light pulses cost about $250,000 and came from Bawendi, a company specializing in research on quantum dots.
As the system requires repeatability, its applications include analyzing physical structures or manufactured and biological materials, with one of the researchers comparing it to an ultrasound with light.
Media Lab postdoc Andreas Velten, left, and Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar