A Camera So Fast it Can See Neurons Firing?

Hi speed camera

High speed cameras have some pretty amazing applications, with ultrahigh-speed cameras able to produce exposure times of less than 50 microseconds. They can be used for vision research, engineering, and laboratory studies, especially for speeds of 100,000 FPS or more. For example, research from the Department of Physics and Space Sciences at Florida Tech required cameras that could capture images at up to 12,600 frames per second.

That’s pretty impressive. But did you ever think that super slow motion cameras could capture something so rapid, so minute, so tiny as the firing of a neuron? That’s right — the instantaneous electrical signals firing in your brain, helping you read and process these words right now?

Physicists at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, say they’ve designed a high speed camera that can do just that.

“Neural signals can propagate along nerves at speeds of over 100 meters per second (223 mph),” said Lihong Wang, who led the research. He told Live Science: “That kind of speed is too high for any current cameras to capture. We hope we can use our system to study neural networks to understand how the brain works.”

The team accomplished this by starting with a streak camera, which is fast enough to capture changes in the intensity of light, to a standard digital camera. They merged data from both sources to produce images with an incredibly high resolution, contrast, and clean background.

They’ve essentially improved upon current leading high speed camera technology “by about 2.4 times,” according to Wang. “This is a step above something that was already exciting.”

The billion-frames-per-second speed is fast enough to capture neurons firing in the brain, which could lead to huge advancements in our understanding of how the mind works. It could also be used to analyze combustion-engine fuel efficiency by taking a closer look under the hood.

Wang and his team of researchers published the results of their findings in the journal Optica late last month. They’re currently working on submitting a patent for the technology and are looking for companies interested in using it for commercial applications. Where do we sign up?

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