Scientists at M.I.T's Media lab have invented a camera that can capture the speed of light. The camera captures light in less than two-trillionths of a second. With the camera scientists have created slow motion movies of light traveling in space.
Atlantic Wire reports Associate Professor Ramesh Raskar, member of the team of scientists who created the camera, said in an interview: "We have built a virtual slow motion camera where we can see photons, or light particles through space. Photons travel a million times faster than bullets. So our camera can see photons, or bullets of light traveling through space."
Daily Mail reports that Raskar said: "With our ultra-fast imaging we can actually analyse how the photons are traveling through the world."
The scientists call the new photography technique femto-photography. According to Raskar, the project to build the camera is an offshoot of another project that aimed at producing a camera that can look around corners. Raskar, in an interview with The New York Times, said that what began as an attempt to capture and compute the path of reflected light matured into femto-photography. The M.I.T. Media Lab explained how the new photography technology works:
"A laser pulse that lasts less than one trillionth of a second is used as a flash and the light returning from the scene is collected by a camera at a rate equivalent to roughly 1 trillion frames per second. However, due to very short exposure times (roughly one trillionth of a second) and a narrow field of view of the camera, the video is captured over several minutes by repeated and periodic sampling. "
The device, according to the scientists, was made by adapting a "streaker tube" chemists use to scan and capture light. A streak camera, according to The Telegraph, uses a narrow slit for aperture and produces an image of light particles passing through the slit. Each still picture has a shutter speed of 1.7 picoseconds, that is, a trillionth of a second.
The scientists explained that capturing light photons moving at the speed of light with sufficient brightness would be impossible in the ordinary direct method of photography. Femto-photography therefore works by using complex processes to build slow motion movies tracking the light photons as it travels in space. The scientists say that the final image accurately shows the way the light looked as it traveled in space. The videos above demonstrate how the method works. The second video captures laser pulses at l trillion frames per second as light travels across a tomato.
Raskar, who described the new camera as "the world's fastest camera," said: "Watching this it looks like light in slow motion. It is so slow you can see the light itself move across the distance.This is the speed of light captured: there is nothing in the universe that moves faster, so we are at the physical limit of high-speed photography."
Raskar and his colleagues believe that the new method could provide very useful application in medicine and in commercial photography. They believe the camera could also become useful in every day photography situations.
Raksar said the ultimate goal is how to : "...create studio-like lighting from a compact flash? How can I take a portable camera that has a tiny flash and create the illusion that I have all these umbrellas, and sport lights, and so on?...Imagine if you have this in your phone about 10 years from now. You will be able to go to your supermarket and tell if your fruit is ripe."