The New ‘World’s Fastest Camera’ Can Shoot 70 Trillion Frames Per Second

A team of researchers at Caltech have developed (yet another) camera capable of capturing over a trillion images every second. The previous “world’s fastest camera” could shoot 10 trillion fps; the new camera can capture up to 70 trillion, smashing the previous record.

This latest breakthrough is an evolution of previous “trillion+ fps” cameras from Caltech, all of them some form of “Compressed Ultrafast Photography” or (CUP). The latest iteration is called CUSP, which stands for Compressed Ultrafast Spectral Photography, and it comes from the same minds at Caltech that were recently able to capture 1 trillion fps images of transparent phenomenon like neuron pulses and shockwaves.

Developed by Lihong Wang and his team, CUSP combines a laser that emits short pulses of laser light that last only one quadrillionth of a second, with optics that break up each individual pulse into a train of even shorter light pulses, each of which is capable of producing an image in the camera. But those are just words… how about some sample footage.

In the GIF below—download the full-res movie file here—a pulse of light was passed over a group of letters (which spell Caltech, of course) and captured at both 10 trillion fps with the T-CUP camera (left) and 70 trillion fps with the new CUSP camera (right). Each pulse lasts just 1.5 picoseconds, or 1.5×10^-12 seconds, or 0.0000000000015 seconds.

For those who enjoy back-of-the-napkin math, the speed of light is (just under) 300 billion millimeters per second. Now, take 70 trillion frames/s and divide it by 300 billion mm/s, and you get ~233.3 frames for every millimeter the light travels. Put another way: this camera can capture about 230 frames in the time it takes light itself to move one millimeter.

You may have guessed this by now, but the CUSP system won’t be taking senior pictures any time soon… or ever. The technology will be used to capture incredibly short-lived phenomena like nuclear fusion, the fluorescent decay of molecules, or the movement of light waves themselves. While some of this was possible with T-CUP, this 7x speed boost promises to reveal natural phenomenon that were previously unknowable.

To learn more about this new breakthrough in femtosecond imaging, head over the Caltech website. And if you want to dive into the full research paper, you can find it online here or in the April 29th issue of Nature Communications.