World's fastest camera
A team of researchers from the Sweden-based Lund University has created a camera that can take a trillion images in a second. Lund University/Kennet Ruona

A research group at the Sweden's Lund University has developed the world’s fastest cameras. The researchers claim that their camera can film at a rate of five trillion images per second and even events as short as 0.2 trillionths of a second, which is something that has never been done before.

The new camera could particularly be useful in the field of physics, biology and medicine, as it will be able to capture images that haven’t made their way to film till now, because of technological limitations.

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“Today, the only way to visualise such rapid events is to photograph still images of the process. You then have to attempt to repeat identical experiments to provide several still images which can later be edited into a movie. The problem with this approach is that it is highly unlikely that a process will be identical if you repeat the experiment”, Elias Kristensson, one of the leading researchers on the project said in the press release Friday.

The technology is called FRAME — Frequency Recognition Algorithm for Multiple Exposures.

To showcase how the camera works, researchers have filmed the video of light, which comprises of a collection of photons, travelling through papers of varying thickness. The whole process, in real time takes one trillionth of a second. Using the camera, the researchers have slowed down the video by a trillion times, so that changes in the movement of photons can be noticed.

The camera differs in usage from the existing high-speed cameras, which capture frames one by one in a sequence. Instead, it captures several coded frames in a single picture and then sorts them into a video sequence. The underlying process, which makes it possible to do this, involves exposing the subject of the video to series of laser flashes with each light pulse generated as a result having a unique code. These are then merged into a single photo an separated using an encryption key.

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The new camera technology opens up many possibilities, especially for scientists — natural processes taking place in a trillionth or even a quadrillionth of second can now be captured on tape.

“This does not apply to all processes in nature, but quite a few, for example, explosions, plasma flashes, turbulent combustion, brain activity in animals and chemical reactions. We are now able to film such extremely short processes”, says Kristensson. “In the long term, the technology can also be used by industry and others”.

It is also interesting to note what inspired the invention. Kristensson and his team work on creating next-generation car engines, gas turbines and boiler cleaners. They wanted to capture a number of ultra-fast processes involved in combustion at the molecular level, such as the chemistry of plasma discharges, the lifetime of quantum states in combustion environments and in biological tissue, as well as how chemical reactions are initiated.