70 Trillion Frames Per Second: World’s fastest camera could capture nuclear fusion and radioactive molecule decay for the first time

Scientists say they’ve developed a camera that can record 70 trillion frames per second and could be used to capture nuclear fusion, radioactive molecule decay or astronomical events that are light-years away. 

The ‘compressed ultrafast spectral photography’ (CUSP) device, which emits extremely short laser pulses, can capture waves of light in motion, or the fluorescent delay of molecules. 

A frame rate this high could also capture events that happen too fast for traditional film speeds, such as shock waves and the transport of photons – the basic unit of light – through different substances.

CUSP can take 70 trillion frames in the time it takes a person to blink, smashing the research team’s own previous record of 10 trillion a second. 

The new record-breaking device could open up research in fundamental physics, next-generation semiconductors and the life sciences. 

While CUSP is miles ahead of the average smartphone camera, which manages around 30 frames per second, more research would be needed to transform the sprawling array of lab equipment into a widely-available device

‘We envision applications in a rich variety of extremely fast phenomena, such as ultrashort light propagation, wave propagation, nuclear fusion, photon transport in clouds and biological tissues, and florescent decay or biomolecules, among other things,’ said Lihong Wang at the Optical Imaging Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Using the new ultrafast camera system, researchers were able to see pulses of light travel across a set of letters reading ‘Caltech’.

The pulses were passed over the text and captured at both 70 trillion fps with both the new CUSP camera and the older T-CUP camera, which captures 10 trillion frames per second.

Cameras’ imaging speeds fundamentally limit humans’ capability in discerning the physical world, the researchers say in their research paper. 

Recently, imaging technologies based on silicon sensors have improved to offer imaging speeds up to millions of frames per second.

However, they fall short in capturing a ‘rich variety of extremely fast phenomena’, such as ultrashort light propagation, nuclear fusion and the radioactive decay of molecules.

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