High speed cameras have been interesting since they were first created. People are always curious about what they cannot see, and these cameras give us such imagery. Researchers at MIT though have taken it to a whole new level with the fastest high speed camera you can find anywhere.
With a frame rate of 1 trillion frames per second and exposure time of 1.71 picoseconds (0.00000000000000171 seconds) this camera can watch light travel. While a regular high speed camera captures a bullet flying through the air, this camera watches photons, travelling at approximately 299792458 m/s, move through space.
This femto-photographic camera is a kind of streak camera which, for you and me, may be quite impractical for the uses we’d have for it. Streak cameras do take two dimensional images, similar to our point-and-shoots, but only one dimensional is spatial; the other is time. Light enters the camera through a very narrow slit and then passes through an electric field. Light is electromagnetic so the electric field deflects it, and by changing the field, the amount the light is deflected changes. This allows the light to enter the camera last to be deflected more than the light that entered first, thus giving the temporal dimension.
As the camera only collects data on a single horizontal line at a time, the researchers had to spend hours to make the videos of light moving across the frame. This is not an issue though for what the camera will most likely be used for. Watching light be emitted from a chemical reaction, passing through a material, or even using light like sound in an ultrasound are all possible uses this camera will work quite well for. Until the camera is put to such uses, check out the video of a millimeter pulse of light traveling through a liter bottle.