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This camera can snap chemical reactions at a trillionth of a second

Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
August 12, 2014
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You know those high-speed cameras used to film mesmerizing ultra slo-mo videos? They're downright slow compared to this one developed by researchers from The University of Tokyo and Keio University in Japan. The 12-man science team has just revealed an extremely speedy camera that can take pictures of chemical reactions (in burst mode, as those are impossible to capture in a single shot) at 450 x 450 pixels. It's called the Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography or STAMP cam, and it can capture consecutive images at a rate of one per every one-trillionth of a second. To note, other high-speed cameras capture one image per every one-billionth of a second. The device is supposed to be 1,000 times faster than comparable models and has even managed to snap a picture of heat conduction (a process that takes, oh, 1/6th the speed of light) during a test.

Its potential applications are pretty limited at this point, since the current prototype's humongous at one square meter in size. STAMP's creators aim to shrink it down in the future, though that might take time, seeing as it took them three years to get to this point. If and when they do succeed, the camera could be used in medicine to advance ultrasonic therapy and to better understand laser processing in the production of cars and semi-conductors. Wondering how STAMP can take multiple pictures in a very, very short amount of time? According to the team's paper recently published in Nature:

The principle of this method -- 'motion picture femtophotography' -- is all-optical mapping of the target's time-varying spatial profile onto a burst stream of sequentially timed photographs with spatial and temporal dispersion.

If you'd like to savor every technical detail on how STAMP works, though, make sure to head over to the journal for a longer read.

[Image credit: The University of Tokyo]

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