World's Fastest Camera Catches Cancer at 36.7 Million FPS

By Jamie Condliffe on at

There are plenty of insanely fast ways to acquire images, but in a lab in UCLA, engineers have created the world's fastest 2D camera. It's so fast, it can image 36.7 million fully-2D frames every second — and it could revolutionise the way we screen for cancer.

The camera is actually part of a microscope set-up, and it uses a process known as STEAM: serial time-encoded amplified microscopy, a system which uses laser light to create images. It has a shutter speed of just 27 picoseconds, which means it can take 36.7 million frames per second.

Which is all very impressive but... what use is it? Well, it's currently being used to analyse cells. A stream of cells pass under its field of view, at 9mph, and consequently the camera can be used to analyse 100,000 of the things every second. That's 100 times quicker than any previous microscope.

The upshot is that millions of cells can be imaged and then analysed computationally to spot abnormalities. In turn, it's possible to detect incredibly rare cancer cells in blood, with a record-low false positive rate of one in a million.

In fact, the throughput of the cells isn't limited by the speed of the camera — but by the rate at which cells can be moved without damage. Talk about future-proofing... [PNAS via PopSci]

Image by The Webhamster under Creative Commons license