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Superfast Camera Could Be Used For Imaging

December 15, 2011
Written by: , Filed in: Diagnostic Imaging, Obstetric Ultrasound
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A new camera so fast that it can capture the movement of a burst of light—in slow motion—could lead to a new way of imaging.

Researchers at the MIT Media Lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts, have developed a video camera that can capture 1 trillion exposures per second. So it can show a single burst of light traveling in slow motion through a plastic Coke bottle, even though that light pulse zipped through the bottle in a billionth of a second. You can see the Coke bottle demonstration in a video embedded in an MIT news release about the device.

In the video, Ramesh Raskar, PhD, an associate professor of media arts and sciences in the Media Lab, discusses possible applications:

Such a camera may be useful in medical imaging, in industrial or scientific use, and in the future even for consumer photography. In medical imaging, now we can do ultrasound with light because we can analyze how light will scatter volumetrically inside the body.

In other words, just as ultrasound uses reflected sound to create visual images of what’s inside the  body, this new camera could create images by analyzing the scattering of light as it reflects off internal structures.

There is one tiny little technical hurdle to overcome. Well, we’re sure there are several technical hurdles, but the big one is this: The camera works only with objects that can remain absolutely still for at least an hour.

The reason is that it uses something called a streak camera, which has a narrow slit for an aperture. Particles of light enter the slit and are converted to electrons, which pass through a rapidly changing electrical field that deflects them. A streak camera produces images that have only one spatial dimension—essentially, a single streak.

In order to create a conventional two-dimensional visual image, the same event must be repeated exactly, over and over, with the camera position changing infinitesimally each time. (Or, as is the case with the MIT camera, a mirror reflecting the event must change position infinitesimally.) Eventually, line by line, the camera builds data for the two-dimensional image. A computer uses algorithms to put all that data together to form the images.

Unfortunately, people and their body parts don’t hold still. So further development is needed before “ultralight” imaging (or whatever it ends up being called) reaches the clinical-use stage.

Still, how utterly cool.

Related seminar: Maternal Fetal Imaging™

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