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Ultrafast Camera Records at Speed of Light


Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have developed an imaging system that can acquire visual data at a rate of one trillion exposures per second--fast enough to produce a slow-motion video of a burst of light traveling the length of a one-liter bottle, bouncing off the cap and reflecting back to the bottle's bottom.

As Ramesh Raskar, an associate professor in M.I.T.'s Media Lab, explains in the video below, a high-speed camera can capture the image of a bullet mid-flight. The M.I.T. camera can capture the movement of photons, which travel about one million times faster than bullets.

The researchers use a titanium-sapphire laser as a pulsed light source and direct the beam using mirrors to a plastic bottle that helps illuminate the light. Their camera consists of an array of 500 sensors, each triggered at a trillionth-of-a-second delay, Media Lab postdoctoral associate Andreas Velten says in the video. The images are combined to get a complete movie of photon movement.

The researchers, part of the Media Lab's Camera Culture group, expect that such a camera could have practical applications in medical imaging, scientific and industrial research and possibly even consumer photography.

Image: Media Lab postdoc Andreas Velten, left, and Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar with the experimental setup they used to produce slow-motion video of light scattering through a plastic bottle.

Photo: M. Scott Brauer

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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