Ramesh Raskar, Andreas Velten, and Moungi Bawendi at MIT have built a new imaging system that can capture videos at one trillion frames per second, meaning it can produce a slow-motion video of light in motion. A photon moves less than 1 mm per frame of the image, so slowing the video data down to 24 fps (a standard number of frames for a motion picture) would yield a video that would allow you to watch a photon traveling about an inch per second. If you wanted to use this slow-motion technique to watch a photon as it travels the distance it normally travels in a tenth of a second, you’d die before you get to the end of the video; that’s how long that footage would be. Also, photons get stabby when you stare at them too much.
Dr. Raskar told the New York Times, “We’re still trying to get our heads around what this means, because no one has been able to see the world in this way before.” The technology might eventually be used for medical imaging, identifying materials, and analyzing objects.
The researchers captured the video by modifying a streak tube, which normally only captures one spatial dimension and time. To produce a two-dimensional moving image, they performed an identical experiment several times, sychronizing everything to build a composite 2D image. It took them about an hour to produce a slow-motion video capturing one nanosecond of real time. Raskar joked it’s “the world’s slowest fastest camera”. Finally, a camera I can use to make a sex tape. Forget I said that.