US and Canadian researchers have used ultrashort laser pulses to develop a camera capable of shooting 10 trillion frames in a second.
The team, from Quebec University’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), claim the camera is the world’s fastest. Known as T-CUP, the device effectively makes it possible to freeze time and see how phenomena such as light itself behaves in hyper-slow motion.
As a starting point, the researchers looked at compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), a technique that can capture around 100 billion frames per second. In order to incorporate the ultrashort laser pulses required to deliver a much higher frame rate, the new T-CUP system was developed based on a femtosecond streak camera that also involves a data acquisition type used in applications such as tomography.
“We knew that by using only a femtosecond streak camera, the image quality would be limited,” said Professor Lihong Wang, 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 femtosecond streak camera, we can use what is called a Radon transformation to obtain high-quality images while recording ten trillion frames per second.”
According to the team, the camera has set a world record for real-time imaging speed and could be used to power a new generation of high-performance applications in materials science and biomedical devices. The very first time it was used, it captured the temporal focusing of a single femtosecond laser pulse in real time. 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,” said former COIL engineer Jinyang Liang, leading author of the work, which appears in Light: Science & Applications. “But we already see possibilities for increasing the speed to up to one quadrillion (10 exp 15) frames per second!”