At 5 trillion fps, this camera could lead to scientific breakthroughs

The secret to building cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines might just be uncovered by a camera that shoots 5 trillion images per second.

Scientific cameras to record processes in physics, chemistry and other disciplines traditionally topped out at 100,000 images per second — though recent research has upped that to 100 billion — making some processes simply impossible to document in detail. But, researchers at Lund University in Sweeden have broken the speed record with a camera capable of creating videos at 5 trillion images per second.

Unlike a traditional camera, the shutter does not open and close 5 trillion times in one second. Instead, the camera, called FRAME (Frequency Recognition Algorithm for Multiple Exposures), uses a laser beam, multiple exposures, and a computer. As the laser hits the image, it uses a unique code. A single frame will have several encoded laser beams inside the image. A computer can then split that frame into several images using the encoded data in the laser. Those split frames can then be assembled into a movie boasting that top frame rate.

By encoding several images in one, the researchers were able to push beyond what is physically possible with current camera technology. The new camera is designed to record rapid processes, from how light travels to even brain activity in animals. The researchers behind the new camera, Elias Kristensson and Andreas Ehn, typically study combustion — their plan is to use the camera to visualize combustion on a molecular level, which they hope in turn will lead to the creation of more fuel-efficient engines, turbines, and boilers.

“Today, the only way to visualize such rapid events is to photograph still images of the process,” Kristensson said. “You then have to attempt to repeat identical experiments to provide several still images which can later be edited into a movie. The problem with this approach is that it is highly unlikely that a process will be identical if you repeat the experiment.”

Researchers estimate the new camera system could be available — to other scientists — in about two years.