New camera has more than just speed

Lihong Wang is not one to rest on his laurels. Barely a year after developing the world’s fastest camera (capable of taking 10 trillion pictures a second and capturing light travelling in slow motion) he has bettered it.

His new technology, which he calls phase-sensitive compressed ultrafast photography (pCUP), can take video not just of transparent objects but also of more ephemeral things such as shockwaves – and possibly, he suggests, even the signals that travel through neurons.

All is described in a paper in the journal Science Advances.

Wang, Professor of Medical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at California Institute of Technology, says he developed his new system by combining his previous new one with an old technology – phase-contrast microscopy – that was designed to allow better imaging of objects that are mostly transparent, such as cells.

Phase-contrast microscopy works by taking advantage of the way that light waves slow down and speed up as they enter different materials. Those changes in speed alter the timing of the waves. 

“What we’ve done is to adapt standard phase-contrast microscopy so that it provides very fast imaging, which allows us to image ultrafast phenomena in transparent materials,” Wang says.

The technology, though still early in its development, may ultimately have uses in many fields, including physics, biology, or chemistry, he adds.

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