New Camera Sees Light Like No Other...and it looks real pokey
Scientists have developed a camera so fast and sophisticated that it can show light as it travels through the air.
This sounds pretty wacky doesn’t it? We generally see things by the light reflected off it. It’s not like we can point a flashlight at a photon so we can see it as it travels.
This feat was accomplished by researchers from Heriot-Watts University and the University of Glasgow and recently demonstrated at the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition in the UK.
It all starts with the special camera developed at the University of Edinburgh. The business end of this bad boy consists of an array of special pixels. These pixels can not only detect one photon of light, they can be activated for 67 uber-tiny slices of time called pico-seconds (trillionths of a second). That’s one helluva shutter speed. Compared to this, one glacially moving eye-blink is a billion times slower. The end result is a camera that effectively images 15 billions frames per second. My iPhone camera is seeming pretty damn lame right about now.
It works this way: The pixels in the camera are activated when a laser is turned on sending laser pulses bouncing off a series of mirrors. Occasionally, one of the photons interacts with a molecule in the air and is scattered away. Some of them go directly into the camera hitting a pixel which turns off its timer (at say 1 pico-second). As subsequent photons hit other pixels, their timers are shut down as well but the recorded elapsed time will be different (at say 2 then 3 then 4 pico-seconds). Using these timings, a video can be created showing the progress of the light as it moves through the air.
Besides being just damn awesome, this technology could see many applications like medical imaging and search and rescue. Perhaps the most interesting possibility is using this to literally see around corners. This brings new meaning to the classic reply to the statement “See you later”
“Not if I see you first”
Image Credit: Heriot-Watt University