A camera capable of seeing light in motion, now in 3D


A technology that can achieve frame rates per second fast enough to see the light travel, now she surpasses herself to collect images in three dimensions.

The new camera, which uses the same underlying technology as Caltech researcher Lihong Wang’s other Compressed Ultra-Fast Photography (CUP) cameras, is capable of taking up to 100 billion frames per second. That’s fast enough to take 10 billion photos – more images than the entire human population of the world – in the time it takes to blink..

Wang calls the new iteration “single-shot stereopolarimetric compressed ultra-fast photography” or SP-CUP. Se describe en Nature Communications.

In CUP technology, all frames of a video are captured in one action without repeating the event. This makes a CUP camera extremely fast (a good cell phone camera can take 60 frames per second). Wang added a third dimension to these ultra-fast images by making the camera “see” more like humans do.

When a person looks at the world around him, he perceives that some objects are closer to him and others further away. This depth perception is made possible by our two eyes, each of which observes objects and their surroundings from a slightly different angle. The brain combines the information from these two images into a single three-dimensional image.

The SP-CUP camera works essentially the same way, says Wang. “The camera is stereo now,” he says, quoted by Eureka Alert. “We have one lens, but it works as two halves that provide two views with compensation. Two channels mimic our eyes.”

Just as our brain does with the signals it receives from our eyes, the computer that runs the SP-CUP camera processes the data from these two channels into three-dimensional film.


SP-CUP also presents another innovation that no human being possesses: the ability to see the polarization of light waves.

The polarization of light refers to the direction in which light waves vibrate as they travel. Consider a guitar string. If the string is pulled up (say, with a finger) and then released, the string will vibrate vertically. If the finger pulls it sideways, the string will vibrate horizontally. Ordinary light has waves that vibrate in all directions. However, polarized light has been altered so that all of its waves vibrate in the same direction. This can happen by natural means, such as when light is reflected off a surface, or as a result of artificial manipulation, as with polarizing filters.

Although our eyes cannot detect the polarization of light directly, the phenomenon has been exploited in a variety of applications: from LCD screens to polarized sunglasses and camera lenses in optics, to devices that detect hidden stresses in materials and three-dimensional configurations of molecules.

Wang says that the SP-CUP’s combination of high-speed three-dimensional imaging and the use of polarization information makes it a powerful tool that can be applicable to a wide variety of scientific problems.

In particular, he hopes it will help researchers better understand the physics of sonoluminescence, a phenomenon in which sound waves create tiny bubbles in water or other liquids. As the bubbles rapidly collapse after their formation, they emit a burst of light.

“Some people consider this to be one of the greatest mysteries in physics,” he says. “When a bubble collapses, its interior reaches such a high temperature that it generates light. The process that makes this happen is very mysterious because everything happens so fast, and we wonder if our camera can help us solve it.

Leave a Comment