Nature2014-12-08 2:29 PM

Single-shot compressed ultrafast photography at one hundred billion frames per second


The capture of transient scenes at high imaging speed has been long sought by photographers1, 2, 3, 4, with early examples being the well known recording in 1878 of a horse in motion5 and the 1887 photograph of a supersonic bullet6. However, not until the late twentieth century were breakthroughs achieved in demonstrating ultrahigh-speed imaging (more than 105 frames per second)7. In particular, the introduction of electronic imaging sensors based on the charge-coupled device (CCD) or complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) technology revolutionized high-speed photography, enabling acquisition rates of up to 107 frames per second8. Despite these sensors’ widespread impact, further increasing frame rates using CCD or CMOS technology is fundamentally limited by their on-chip storage and electronic readout speed9. Here we demonstrate a two-dimensional dynamic imaging technique, compressed ultrafast photography (CUP), which can capture non-repetitive time-evolving events at up to 1011 frames per second. Compared with existing ultrafast imaging techniques, CUP has the prominent advantage of measuring an x–y–t (x, y, spatial coordinates; t, time) scene with a single camera snapshot, thereby allowing observation of transient events with temporal resolution as tens of picoseconds. Furthermore, akin to traditional photography, CUP is receive-only, and so does not need the specialized active illumination required by other single-shot ultrafast imagers2, 3. As a result, CUP can image a variety of luminescent—such as fluorescent or bioluminescent—objects. Using CUP, we visualize four fundamental physical phenomena with single laser shots only: laser pulse reflection and refraction, photon racing in two media, and faster-than-light propagation of non-information (that is, motion that appears faster than the speed of light but cannot convey information). Given CUP’s capability, we expect it to find widespread applications in both fundamental and applied sciences, including biomedical research.


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