MIT researchers have created a camera that can acquire visual data at a rate of one trillion exposures per second.
Direct recording of light is impossible at a trillion frames per second, so the camera takes millions of repeated scans to recreate each image.
Such a rate is reported to be fast enough to produce a slow-motion video of a burst of light.
The team claims that the technique, dubbed femto-photography, could be used to understand ultra-fast processes.
The video produced is a composite of hundreds of thousands of videos taken over the period of an hour. Each shot is taken at a slightly different angle with a mirror and a ‘streak camera’, which is a device traditionally used to take data readings from light pulses.
According to the BBC, a laser pulse flashing briefly once every 13 billionths of a second was used to illuminate the scene for the human eye.
Andreas Velten, one of the system’s developers, calls it the ‘ultimate’ in slow motion. ‘There’s nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera,’ he said.
After the scan lines were stitched together, software was used to turn the images into movies lasting 480 frames.
One revealed a pulse of light, less than 1mm long, travelling through a bottle at a rate of 0.5mm per frame.
The streak camera and the laser that generates the light pulses have a cumulative price tag of £160,000 ($250,000) and were provided by Bawendi, a company that specialises in research into quantum dots.