Humans are a visual species. From our earliest days, we’ve expressed a fixated obsession with capturing that which cannot ever truly be pinned down. Our earliest ancestors covered cave walls with frozen depictions of the hunt. Renaissance painters labored for hours over statues and canvasses, striving for realism. Inventors developed kinetoscopes, which gave way to the first silent movies, and, in turn, to the first flickering movies. From there, films developed sound, then colour, then stereo, then IMAX, and today you can comfortably recline in your gigantic seat to take in the latest 3-D Transformers movie.
But that’s not enough for a lot of people. Recording evidence has long remained a priority for many scientists and other analytical fields, and as a result, engineers and scientists are continually pushing back the boundaries of what film and recording devices can and can’t do. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have announced the latest and most stunning breakthrough yet- a five trillion frames per second camera.
This isn’t your ordinary camera, of course –this massive, and unwieldy contraption works through a complicated system of lasers. The “camera” works by repeatedly firing a laser at a subject; each flash is tagged with a unique code. The subject reflects the flashes, and those reflections are combined into a single image. From there, the data gets fed into a computer algorithm, combining each disparate piece of information into a single image. Then another algorithm breaks down that image back into a video sequence.
Swedish researchers put the camera to work immediately, using it to film particles of light travelling at a distance as thin as a sheet of paper – then slowing down that trek to watch each picosecond of its progress. There’s plenty more uses for a high-powered scientific camera such as this – researchers hope that in the future it could be used to capture evasive particles on film, or track the motions of obscure natural phenomenon in stunning ultra slo-mo detail.
If you’re hoping to get one for yourself, however, be patient – a German company is currently trying to turn the camera into something useful on the consumer market, a process estimated to take about two years. In the meantime… why not think of all the things you’d want to film in ultra-slo-mo?