Researchers from Japan have developed a new high-speed camera that is capable of recording events at a rate of more than 1-trillion-frames-per-second. It will become a very important tool for researching unexplored complex ultrafast phenomena and is a great achievement in itself. Camera is so capable it can capture light traveling through a crystal lattice at close to one sixth the speed of light.
Speed of the camera is hard to grasp. But, in comparison, it is more than one thousand times faster than conventional high-speed cameras. Conventional cameras are limited by the speed of their mechanical and electrical components, which take some time to process information and execute commands. New high-speed camera can overcome these limitations by using only fast, optical components.
Motivation to create such an advances image capturing equipment was born when Keiichi Nakagawa, a researcher who was working on the development of the camera, was studying acoustic shock waves. He did not have proper equipment to capture the dynamics of such a fast, transient event as a shock wave passing through a cell. Because it was critical for his research about how acoustic shock waves changed living cells, he decided to develop such tool himself.
Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography, shortly called 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 colours. STAMP splits an ultra-short pulse of light into a barrage of different coloured flashes that hit the imaged object in rapid-fire succession. These separate colour flashes are analysed and form a moving picture of what the object looked like over the time it took the dispersed light pulse to travel through the STAMP. In other words, camera takes several frames in a single shot.
In the first attempts to capture an ultra-fast images frames per shot were limited to six. However, now researchers are working on improving the device to make it able to acquire 25 sequential images. Furthermore, Nakagawa himself believes that even with today’s technology it is possible to extend this number up to 100.
However, there are disadvantages of such image capturing system. Nakagawa notes that STAMP operates on the assumption that all the differently coloured daughter pulses interact with the imaged object in the same way. It means that camera cannot be effectively used to capture images of samples whose optical properties change over the range of wavelengths STAMP uses.
Despite these limitations potential of this technology is huge. Scientists already used it to image electronic motion and lattice vibrations in a crystal of lithium niobate and to observe how a laser focused onto a glass plate creates a hot, rapidly expanding plume of plasma. STAMP could also be used to research wide range of phenomena for the first time. Such as the laser ignition of fusion, the phase transition of materials, and the dynamics of a Coulomb explosion.
There are many potential uses for STAMP and it will be improved over time. There are a lot of phenomena that cannot be observed using currently available high-speed cameras and other equipment. That is why Nakagawa hopes that more scientists will get interested in STAMP technology and will find ways to develop it further and discover something new. In a way, it is technology that can make time slow down.