Dr. Lihong Wang envisions astronomers analyzing the temporal activities of a supernova or a forensic scientist reproducing bullet pathways. All possible with a new technique called compressed ultrafast photography. It was created by a team of biomedical engineers at Washington University in St. Louis led by Wang.

The receive-only 2-D camera can capture events at a mind-boggling 100 billion frames per second. That makes my GoPro or iPhone 6 Plus look like a disposable camera.

Current receive-only 2-D cameras capture images at around 10 million frames per second.

“For the first time, humans can see light pulses on the fly,” Wang said. “Because this technique advances the imaging frame rate by orders of magnitude, we now enter a new regime to open up new visions. Each new technique, especially one of a quantum leap forward, is always followed a number of new discoveries. It’s our hope that CUP will enable new discoveries in science — ones that we can’t even anticipate yet.”

This 2-D camera doesn’t look like you average camera. A streak camera is combined with lenses, telescopes and microscopes to capture video at incredibly high frames per second. The illustration below shows how the camera works.

compressed ultrafast photography

CUP expands a streak camera’s “view into 2-D space” according to Wang. Traditional streak cameras are fast, but offer only a one dimensional view.

Check out the Daily Mail article for a video of the technique in action.

This technique opens a whole new world into deep imaging of biological tissues. “We can use CUP to image the lifetimes of various fluorophores, including fluorescent proteins, at light speed,” says Wang.

As for space applications? “Combine CUP imaging with the Hubble Telescope, and we will have both the sharpest spatial resolution of the Hubble and the highest temporal solution with CUP,” he said.

The researchers published their findings in Nature.

Image credits: Lihong Wang/Washington University

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