This camera captures 156.3 trillion frames per second

Scientists have developed a super-hot scientific camera that captures images at an encoding rate of 156.3 terahertz (THz) per pixel – equivalent to 156.3 trillion frames per second. Called SCARF (playable-coded aperture real-time femtophotography), the research-class camera could bring breakthroughs in fields that study the tiny phenomena that come and go too quickly on today’s most expensive scientific sensors.

SCARF has successfully captured very fast phenomena such as absorption in a semiconductor and demagnetization of a metal alloy. This research may open new frontiers in areas as diverse as shock wave mechanics or the development of more effective drugs.

Leading the research team was Professor Jinyang Liang of the Institut National de la recherche scientifique of Canada (INRS). He is a world-renowned pioneer in high-speed photography who took his breakthrough from a research project six years ago. The current study was printed in Nature, in short in a press release from INRS and for the first time report on Science Daily.

Professor Liang and company developed their research as a new approach to high-speed cameras. Usually, these machines use a sequential method: capture frames one by one and combine them to see what’s going on. But this method has limitations. “For example, phenomena such as femtosecond laser ablation, shock-wave interaction with living cells, and light interference cannot be studied in this way,” Liang said.

The components of the research camera are spread out in sequence on the scientific table.

SCARF (National Institute of Scientific Research)

The new camera builds on Liang’s previous research to improve the concept of high-end cameras. “SCARF overcomes these challenges,” INRS communications director Julie Robert wrote in a statement. “Its imaging enables fast scanning of the aperture while not shaving too fast an object. This provides stable encoding up to 156.3 THz to single pixels on a camera with a combined charge device (CCD). These results can be obtained in a single shot at variable rates and intermediate scales for lighting and transmission.”

In very simple terms, it means that the camera uses a scanning method to record spatial information by allowing light to enter its sensor at different times. Not having to process the timing is part of what frees the camera to capture laser “blinking” speeds as high as 156.3 trillion per second. The images can be processed using a computer algorithm that detects input data in sequence over time, converting billions of frames into a complete image.

Interestingly, it did so “using subtle and opaque materials,” as the paper describes it. The group describes SCARF as a low-cost, low-power, and high-precision approach compared to existing methods.

Although SCARF is more focused on research than consumers, the group is already working with two companies, Axis Photonique and Few-Cycle, to create commercial versions, perhaps for colleagues at other universities or scientific institutions.

For more technical information about the camera and how to use it, you can see full paper in Nature.

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