Think Your Camcorder Is Fast? This New Camera Records A Trillion Frames Per Second!

As a graduate student, Keiichi Nakagawa wanted to observe the effects of acoustic shock waves on living cells. Unfortunately, even the highest speed cameras available at the time were too slow to capture such events. Now, Nakagawa and other Japanese researchers have developed the right tool for the job: a video camera that can record one trillion frames per second.

Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography (STAMP): this new camera of all optical components allows record at a rate of 1 trillion frames per second. Image from Keiichi Nakagawa, University of Tokyo.Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography (STAMP): this new camera of all optical components allows record at a rate of 1 trillion frames per second. Image from Keiichi Nakagawa, University of Tokyo.

The new camera is known as STAMP for Sequentially Timed All-optical Mapping Photography and it is over a thousand times faster than any previous video recorder. To achieve such a rate, it is made up entirely of optical components. That means that its speed is not limited by very slow mechanical parts or relatively slow electrical constituents. When compared with the speed of light, even electrons are rather sluggish. While this is not the first camera to avail itself of high-speed optics, it is the first that is able to capture multiple consecutive frames, opening up whole new worlds of high speed phenomena to explore.

For example, the team involved in its production have already used STAMP to observe the motion of atoms in a crystal. When excited with a laser beam, atoms will begin to vibrate and these waves of vibration will propagate through the crystal at astounding rates, on the order of 30,000 miles per second. Until now, we have never been able to directly observe such behavior. While this may seem like a fairly esoteric application, it demonstrates the utility of STAMP in monitoring any number of ultra-fast events including those relevant to the energy economy like the laser ignition of fusion or material phase changes.

This technology probably won’t be coming to a commercial camera near you any time soon; there are few instances when the average consumer is going to require a trillion frames per second worth of data. Not to mention the memory card you would need to store even a few minutes of footage! But developments like this are exciting both for the knowledge they allow us to capture right now and the vision of future camcorders they inspire.