Discover how the fastest camera in the world works

A recent study published in the journal Nature Communications revealed the existence of the fastest camera in the world, which can record images at an astonishing speed of 156 trillion frames per second. According to scientists, this innovation enables visualization and analysis of ultra-fast phenomena previously invisible to the human eye.

This revolutionary technology has the potential to impact several areas of research and development, from innovation in memory learning techniques in computers to advances in medical ultrasound treatments.

In an interview with Live Science, Jinyang Liang, lead author of the study and professor at the Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS) in Quebec, emphasized the importance of this new camera for scientific research. “We are on track to develop a highly versatile imaging system that will allow us to visualize many previously inaccessible phenomena,” he said.

With information from Mega Curioso, the ultra-fast phenomena were difficult to capture, even with the most advanced cameras, whose sensors can only capture images at a rate of several hundred million frames per second. This has become an obstacle to observing some events in nature, which occur five to six times faster on time scales.

In 2020, Liang led a paper on a technology called “ultra-fast long-form photography,” which achieved results as fast as 70 trillion frames per second. Years later, his lab was able to double that record using a technique called real-time scanning-encoded aperture femtometry.

This technology relies on a special light source known as a “chirp” laser, which works to lengthen the wavelengths of light so that lights of different colors arrive at different times. Therefore, when a laser pulse is fired at an object, each wavelength picks up information from different times.

In Liang and his team’s setup, light passes through a grid that splits the wavelengths and sends them in different directions. They then pass through a mask, creating a kind of QR code. Finally, another network combines all wavelengths into a single beam, which reaches the image sensor.

To decode this data, special software is used to determine which parts of the signal it comes from and at what wavelength. It allows you to split a single moment into multiple frames to create a short movie. This technique allows scientists to record phenomena in femtoseconds, one quadrillionth of a second.

Liang stated in his article that the new technology will record the semiconductor absorption of photons from a laser pulse, but it could also have other related applications in the future. For example, researchers hope to use this tool to record how cells respond to shock waves caused by ultrasound and other devices.