Fastest camera in the world films laser pulse

"T-CUP" technology makes ten trillion high-resolution recordings per second

Complex Design: Components of the Ultrafast T-CUP Camera © INRS
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Faster than a laser pulse: Researchers have developed a new high-speed camera that can capture even the flight of a laser pulse in unprecedented resolution. At ten trillion frames per second, the T-CUP camera sets a new record. At the same time, it allows, despite this speed, more details, as the researchers report. Thus, this technique could help to explore fundamental interactions of light and matter, as well as rapid biological processes.

In nature, there are many events that happen extremely fast and at the same time are very small - a combination that is difficult to grasp for cameras. In recent years, researchers have therefore developed various approaches to even film processes on a femtosecond scale or even to capture the one light pulse and the "supersonic" cone of a laser pulse.

"CUP" technology evolved

Some of these ultra-fast cameras are based on Compressed Ultrafast Photography (CUP). Such a CUP camera uses a system of mirrors and beam splitters to generate from temporally successive incoming light signals a recordable for an image sensor spatial pattern. A recording is therefore sufficient to capture the movement of a laser pulse.

Now, Jinyang Liang of Caltech and his colleagues have developed the CUP technology to make even faster and, above all, more detailed recordings. For this, they combined the Streak camera underlying the CUP technique with another camera and a new method of data processing.

"We've added another camera that captures a static image, " Liang's colleague Lihong Wang explains. "Combined with the femtosecond streak camera, we can then use a so-called Radon transform to get high-resolution, ultra-fast images." Display

Taking a femtosecond laser pulse at 2.5 billion frames per second Jinyang Liang, Liren Zhu, and Lihong V. Wang

Laser pulse in all details

The T-CUP baptized camera can capture ten trillion frames per second, as the researchers report - a new record. It's fast enough to capture the pulse of a femtosecond laser in full detail in flight. In the experiment, the researchers aimed their T-cup camera laterally at a 800 nanometer laser, which shot pulses of 50 femtoseconds duration.

"The T-CUP image revealed the entire development of this moving pulse, " Liang and his colleagues report. "Thanks to a 0.4 picosecond frame interval, T-CUP clearly showed the fluctuation in laser intensity, the width compression, and the structural changes in the temporal focusing process."

It's even faster

"That's a success for itself, " says Liang. "But we already see the possibility to increase the speed of the camera up to one quadrillion frames per second. "As the researchers explain, such cameras could help capture fundamental interactions of light and matter.

But there are also many applications for the current T-CUP camera, as the researchers explain. Because the camera requires only a single image to map temporally high-resolution sequences, it is particularly well-suited for the investigation of fast processes in biological tissues and cells. But it can also be used for the characterization of optical waves in photonics, laser microscopy or materials research. (Light: Science & Applications, 2018; doi: 10.1038 / s41377-018-0044-7)

(Institut national de la recherche scientifique INRS, 15.10.2018 - NPO)