Scientists create a scientific camera that captures 153 trillion fps

Researchers have developed a revolutionary scientific camera, SCARF (swept-coded aperture real-time femtophotography), capable of capturing images at an astonishing 156.3 trillion frames per second. This translates to an encoding rate of 156.3 terahertz (THz) per pixel, a feat that surpasses even the most advanced scientific sensors available today.

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SCARF’s incredible speed unlocks the potential for breakthroughs in fields studying ultrafast events – phenomena occurring in trillionths of a second. These events, like light absorption in semiconductors or demagnetization in metal alloys, have been beyond the reach of traditional cameras. With SCARF, researchers can now observe these fleeting processes in unprecedented detail.

The research, led by Professor Jinyang Liang of Canada’s Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), builds upon his prior advancements in ultrafast photography. Traditionally, such cameras capture frames sequentially, limiting their ability to study truly rapid events. Professor Liang explains, “This approach simply can’t handle phenomena like femtosecond laser ablation, shockwave interactions in living cells, or optical chaos.”

SCARF takes a radically different approach.  “It overcomes these limitations,” says Julie Robert, communication officer at INRS.  “SCARF employs a unique imaging modality that rapidly sweeps a coded aperture across the scene while preserving the ultrafast phenomena. This allows for encoding rates of up to 156.3 THz per pixel on a standard CCD sensor.  Remarkably, this is achieved in a single shot, offering researchers tuneable frame rates and spatial scales in both reflection and transmission modes.”

In essence, SCARF captures spatial information by manipulating how light strikes the sensor at slightly different times.  This unique approach frees the camera to capture incredibly fast “chirped” laser pulses at the mind-boggling rate of 156.3 trillion frames per second. The raw data is then processed by a computer algorithm that decodes this time-shifted information, transforming each individual frame into a complete picture.

Even more impressive, SCARF achieves this feat using readily available and passive optical components, making it a cost-effective and low-power solution compared to existing technologies.  While currently targeted for scientific research, the team is already collaborating with companies (Axis Photonique and Few-Cycle) to develop commercial versions for use in universities and research institutions.