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Experimental video camera captures a trillion frames per second

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MIT researchers have developed a camera system that records individual lines of an image at speeds of a trillion frames per second, then assembles them to form an ultra-slow-motion recording of a scene.

Fast Camera on Fruit
Fast Camera on Fruit

By assembling pieces of video captured with a scientific imaging device called a streak camera, MIT researchers can make bursts of light appear as slow as a trickle of oil. The system captures video with frames only 1.71 picoseconds long — that's about a trillion frames per second. The resulting clips show quick laser pulses moving through a bottle in perfect slow-motion detail, or light on a piece of fruit moving slowly enough to be precisely color-coded, as shown above.

The streak camera allows light particles to pass through a narrow slit, then deflects them in a way that allows the camera to assemble an extremely accurate video of the light's progression. However, because of the narrowness of its field of view, it has rarely been used for traditional photography. These videos are achieved by recording one strip of the image reflected in a mirror, then tipping the mirror slowly over many takes. The sections are then assembled by computer. The camera can only record repeatable events, but its creators stress that even now, it could be used to analyze light patterns for computer graphics rendering or for light-based medical imaging. Just don't expect picosecond-by-picosecond sports replays any time soon.