That fancy high-speed Phantom camera is pretty much a child's toy when compared to MIT's new hardware which can record at 1,000,000,000,000 frames per second. Fast enough to capture slow motion footage of light waves.
Developed by the MIT Media Lab's Camera Culture group working with chemists from the school's Bawendi Lab, the high speed camera uses laser pulses that last less than one trillionth of a second as a flash. And as you've probably guessed, the camera doesn't quite work like your traditional Canon or Nikon SLR, it's a little more complicated than that:
The new technique, which we call femto-photography, consists of femtosecond laser illumination, picosecond-accurate detectors and mathematical reconstruction techniques. Our light source is a Titanium Sapphire laser that emits pulses at regular intervals every ~13 nanoseconds. These pulses illuminate the scene, and also trigger our picosecond accurate streak tube which captures the light returned from the scene. The streak camera has a reasonable field of view in horizontal direction but very narrow (roughly equivalent to one scan line) in vertical dimension.
The camera only ends up capturing about 480 frames, each with an effective exposure time of just 1.71 picoseconds. But because light moves so damn fast, that's more than enough to capture it in motion. Besides providing another tool to study the behaviour of light, which is still kind of a mystery to us, I'm pretty sure the researchers are hoping to sell it to Michael Bay who'll put it to even better use in his next blockbuster. [MIT via Wired]