The Trillion Frame-Per-Second Camera That Will Visualise Atoms

By Maddie Stone on at

The newest high-speed camera on the block won’t be making its way into Michael Bay’s hands anytime soon, but it will be making his ‘splosions look rather poky. This camera will be helping scientists watch atoms zoom around at 28,000 miles-per-second.

Top image: Keiichi Nakagawa, University of Tokyo

It’s called Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography, or STAMP, and it records at a trillion frames per second, a couple million times faster than your typical Hollywood feature. According to the research team at the University of Tokyo that’s developing it, the new device “holds great promise for studying a diverse range of previously unexplored complex ultrafast phenomena,” such at atoms whizzing about after getting excited by lasers, acoustic shock waves, and explosions of hot plasma. (We’ll be posting GIFs as soon as they’re available.)

A press release describes how the device uses optics to snap its ultrafast images:

STAMP relies on a property of light called dispersion that can be observed in the way a misty sky splits sunshine into a rainbow of colors. Similarly, STAMP splits an ultrashort pulse of light into a barrage of different colored flashes that hit the imaged object in rapid-fire succession. Each separate color flash can then be analyzed to string together a moving picture of what the object looked like over the time it took the dispersed light pulse to travel through the device.

Incredibly, this isn’t even the fastest camera in the world. Another optical technique, called the pump-probe method, can take pictures at even higher speeds, but apparently, it can only capture one frame at a time. Fastest camera or not, it’s pretty damn impressive to think we now have the technology to watch particles flying around at significant fractions of the speed of light. If that doesn’t get you excited, well, you can always keep your fingers crossed that Hollywood will snag one for its next dizzyingly fast blockbuster. [Tech Radar]