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Video: A Trillion-Frame-Per-Second Camera Captures Individual Photons Moving Through Space


Here at PopSci we love super-fast cameras and super slow-mo video, so you can imagine our glee when we heard that MIT researchers have built a camera with a visual capture rate of one trillion frames per second. That’s fast enough to watch photons travel the length of a one-liter bottle in the video below. In other words, absolutely nothing in the universe looks fast to this camera.

But it’s not so simple as pressing “record.” The rig is built as a “streak camera,” a fairly new innovation in which the aperture of the camera is a narrow slit. Photons enter through the slit and are turned roughly 90 degrees by an electric field, sending them off in a direction perpendicular to the slit. The electric field is quickly changing shape during this time, kicking later-arriving photons toward the sensor with a bit more urgency than earlier-arriving photons.

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