A laser used at the Canadian research institute INRS can deliver ultrashort light pulses in the femtosecond range (10-15 s) - much too short to image them correctly. Researcher Jinyang Liang and his colleagues from California Caltech and Lihong Wang have now developed T-CUP, the world's fastest camera that can capture 10 trillion (1013) frames per second, allowing the passage of light to be shown in slow motion.
In recent years, the use of non-linear optics together with advanced image processing have provided highly effective methods to capture dynamic phenomena in biology and physics on a microscopic scale. To fully exploit the potential requires a method to capture images in real time with very high temporal resolution. Currently the measurement process requires the use of repeated ultrashort laser pulses which is only successful for certain types of samples, not for fragile materials. Laser engraved glass, for example can only withstand a single laser pulse, and less than a picosecond is available to capture the results. In such a case, the recording technique must be able to capture the entire process in real time.

Echtzeit-Aufnahmen eines Femtosekunden-Laserpulses bei 2,5 Tfps. Bild: Liang, Zhu & Wang.
Realtime capture of a
femtosecond laser pulse
at 2.5 Tfps. Image: Liang, Zhu
& Wang.
Compressed ultrafast photography (CUP) techniques already achieve around 100 billion frames per second, which is almost good enough to meet the requirements to resolve light pulses from a femtosecond laser. To further improve on this design, the new T-CUP system combines this with a static image taken by a second camera. By mathematically processing the images using Radon transforms the resulting high-quality images are equivalent to a frame rate of ten trillion frames per second.
T-CUP has thereby achieved the world record for real-time frame rates and has the potential to spawn a whole new generation of microscopes for biomedical, materials science and other applications. The camera even makes it possible to analyze interactions between light and matter with unprecedented temporal resolution, thereby revealing totally new insights into the phenomena.