A little over a year ago, Caltech’s Lihong Wang developed the world’s fastest camera, a device capable of taking 10 trillion pictures per second. It is so fast that it can even capture light traveling in slow motion.
But sometimes just being quick is not enough. Indeed, not even the fastest camera can take pictures of things it cannot see. To that end, Wang, Bren Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering, has developed a new camera that can take up to 1 trillion pictures per second of transparent objects. A paper about the camera appears in the January 17 issue of the journal Science Advances.
The camera technology, which Wang calls phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography (pCUP), can take video not just of transparent objects but also of more ephemeral things like shockwaves and possibly even of the signals that travel through neurons.
Wang explains that his new imaging system combines the high-speed photography system he previously developed with an old technology, phase-contrast microscopy, that was designed to allow better imaging of objects that are mostly transparent such as cells, which are mostly water.
Wang says the technology, though still early in its development, may ultimately have uses in many fields, including physics, biology, or chemistry.
“As signals travel through neurons, there is a minute dilation of nerve fibers that we hope to see. If we have a network of neurons, maybe we can see their communication in real time,” Wang says. In addition, he says, because temperature is known to change phase contrast, the system “may be able to image how a flame front spreads in a combustion chamber.”
The paper describing pCUP is titled “Picosecond-resolution phase-sensitive imaging of transparent objects in a single shot.”