An artist's rendering of a light wave. Shutterstock.

This Incredible Camera Lets You See Light as it Travels

A new ultra fast camera developed by Caltech can take 70 trillion pictures per second.


A new ultrafast camera developed at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is capable of taking up to 70 trillion images per second. That’s fast enough to see traveling light waves and the fluorescent decay of molecules.

The camera technology has been dubbed CUSP (Compressed Ultrafast Spectral Photography) by the team that created it, led by Lihong Wang, a professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering in Caltech’s Department of Medical Engineering.

According to the researchers, cameras’ imaging speeds fundamentally limit humans’ capability in discerning the physical world, but the newly developed camera offers an unprecedented view into previously “unseen” phenomena.

Although imaging technologies which are based on silicon sensors such as CCD and CMOS have been greatly improved over the past years allowing imagine speeds of several millions of frames per seconds, these technologies fall short in capturing a variety of extremely rapid phenomena including light propagation, soliton formation, nuclear fusion, and the radiative decay of molecules.

As revealed by the study in which the new technology is described, successful researches into these events lay the foundations for modern physics, biology, chemistry, material science, and engineering. To witness these events, a frame rate well exceeding a billion frames per second or even a trillion frames per second (Tfps) is required.

The new CUSP technology opens a door into a previously unseen world.

The newly developed camera is similar, in some ways, to the team’s previous fast cameras, such as its phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography, or pCUP device, which can take 1 trillion frames per second of transparent objects and phenomena.

CUSP combines a laser that emits extremely short pulses of laser light lasting only one billionth of a second (one femtosecond) with optics and a specialized type of camera. The optics divide the individual femtosecond pulses of laser light into an even shorter pulse train, with each of those pulses capable of producing an image on the camera.

Wang says the technology could open new avenues of research in fields including fundamental physics, next-generation semiconductor miniaturization, and life science.

“We envision applications in a rich variety of extremely fast phenomena, such as ultrashort light propagation, wave propagation, nuclear fusion, photon transport in clouds and biological tissues, and fluorescent decay of biomolecules, among other things,” Wang says.

The new cameras is described in a research paper titled “Single-shot ultrafast imaging attaining 70 trillion frames per second,” and published in the journal Nature Communications.


Written by Justin Gurkinic

Hey, my name is Justin, and my friends call me Gurk. Why? Becuase of my last name. It sounds like a vegetable. Kind of. I love sleeping and writing. History is my thing.

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