[Video] An MIT Lab Figures Out How To Shoot 1 Trillion Frames Per Second

Okay this video has been emailed to us a bunch of times, and it has already made the rounds on a bunch of blogs BUT I'm still not sure I understand this story at all. Researchers at MIT have created a "video system" made up of 500 sensors that can capture light movement at 1/1,000,000,000,000th of a second. Now after watching this video and reading the official MIT press release, my mind is pretty much blown. It's clear that this camera is not actually filming a native 1 trillion fps but are they saying that the speed of light is so fast that essentially the shutter speed of the composited frames would in fact be 1 trillion fps when strung together? I know there must be some physics gurus out there that can explain this in simple terms! No matter what is actually going on here, it's still pretty geeky and extremely cool to watch such a complicated setup record some of the fastest images ever created.

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Dan Bargen's picture

The simple explanation: 
They can time the virtual 'shutter release' to capture the light at a different, progressing location since they can calculate where the light's position is in space with the set pulse interval and the 'constant' speed of light. 

Am I getting this right?

Impressive.Now you can create the perfect light setup.McNally surley was a tester... he cheated all the time :))

looks like an elaborate April Fools joke.

Might be off here but I have a feeling that camera might be a little more expensive than my Elinchroms... :)

That was EXACTLY my reaction! The guy with the titanium-sapphire laser and "homebrew" 500 sensor array camera thinks my studio lights are expensive. Riiight. 

This is a complete hoax! I can't belive this, that so many are taking this for real. It's way too little light (photons) to capture and the data produced would be so gigantic, that no computer could handle it. They just put a beam of light through a slit and ran it over the scene... I ashames me, that so many people believe this!

This camera doesn't actually see individual photons, it can record motion at the speed of light though. As he says in the beginning of the video, they "can see photons or particles of light moving through space". The plural was the important part here. Their light source, a laser, is actually very powerful. What were seeing is a short pulse of light traveling, not a single photon. Actually, with this type of set up, I don't think they would be able to see a single photon other than if it was pointed straight at the lens.


Basically, the light hits a photosensor (kind of like a solar cell), gets converted to electricity. That electrical signal goes to a cathode ray tube, like an old tv, and makes a dot on a phosphorus screen. That screen is then recorded by a ccd sensor, just like in a standard ccd sensor like in a standard camera as the phosphor will glow for a couple of seconds. I'm guessing their 500 sensors refer to 500 lines and they adjust the cathode ray tube to move at 1-trillionth of a second in order to get all the lines on the phosphor screen, just like an old tv shoots a beam across the surface of the screen. But instead the screen is connected to a ccd sensor to see where the light hits. 

As they were saying, the camera shoots only a video of a line. So the resulting still image wouldn't make much sense as you would have 500 lines at 500 different time. That's what they call a 2D image, in the sense that a line is one dimension and time is the other. They must tilt a mirror to get all the lines that would make up a still image. The corresponding lines at the corresponding times are put together to make up the full video

Taking what Louis said one step further, it would be another challenge all by itself to actually emit a single photon in order to photograph such. Photons generally travel in packs, so to speak. 

He says their camera only records in one dimension (??) and that they have to rotate a mirror to process the entire object.  That doesn't make sense as every frame seems to be in 2D.   It also sounds like they're compiling a lot of different photos as the laser moves across the object.  How fast does that mirror rotate?  

Okay, but now explain the CFL bulb which appears to have a blacklight coating. How does that play into this? Surely that turns up the geek factor to 11. :)