Researchers at Sweden's Lund University built a crazy-fast camera that can capture a staggering five trillion frames per second, or events as short as 0.2 trillionths of one second. Conventional cameras, by contrast, top out at around 100,000 frames per second.
With the new high-speed film camera, the researchers plan to film rapid processes in chemistry, biology, and physics that are otherwise impossible to capture in photos or videos.
"Explosions, plasma flashes, turbulent combustion, brain activity in animals, and chemical reactions — we are now able to film such extremely short processes," Elias Kristensson, a combustion physics researcher and co-inventor of the camera, said in a news release.
Kristensson and his research partner Andreas Ehn plan to use the camera — called FRAME (Frequency Recognition Algorithm for Multiple Exposures) — to record combustion as it occurs at the molecular level, they said.
Combustion is a chemical reaction between a fuel and oxygen, which produces heat. The researchers’ ultimate goal is to help make fuel-burning machines (such as car engines, gas turbines, and boilers) more energy-efficient by examining combustion at every fleeting, minuscule stage.
"In the long term, the technology can also be used by industry and others," Kristensson said.
The FRAME camera works differently from more conventional devices. Most high-speed cameras capture images one by one, in a rapid sequence. But the Swedish creation uses a computer algorithm that captures several coded images in one picture; those are later sorted into a video sequence.
When filming a chemical reaction, the camera exposes it to light by firing off laser flashes. Each light pulse is given a unique code, and the object reflects those bursts of light, which merge into a single photograph. Next, those images are separated using an encryption key.
The researchers said that in addition to setting a new speed record, the camera is especially exciting because of its ability to film chemical changes in real time. Without this new high-speed camera, researchers could only visualize such rapid events by photographing still images of the process, Kristensson explained.
"You then have to attempt to repeat identical experiments to provide several still images, which can later be edited into a movie," he said. "The problem with this approach is that it is highly unlikely that a process will be identical if you repeat the experiment."