Researchers at the MIT Media Lab can photograph the fastest thing in the universe, light. They've developed a camera capable of capturing images at a trillion frames per second. What that means is that the images, like this one, can show light waves.

"We're able to visualize light moving at a trillion frames per second. In order to do that we capture movies of many identically looking pulses that propogate through the scene and we computationally combine these movies to make one movie of the actual pulse." Said Andreas Velten, Post doctoral associate, MIT Media Lab

It starts with a laser that fires a pulse 75 times a second. The camera meanwhile captures one line of the photo or video at a time. For this reason, whatever is being photographed needs to be still and the light source, in this case the laser, needs to be replicated thousands of times. Once all of the lines of the scene are captured, about 500, the team stitches together the photographs, much like you would piece together a panoramic picture made of multiple images.

To give you an idea of how fast a trillion frames per second is, consider this. This report your watching is playing at about 30 frames per second. Super slow motion is in the thousands of frames per second range. At a trillion frames per second, it would take a bullet shot from a gun three years to travel from one side of the screen to the other.

With such speed there are more uses for this technology than just snapping pictures.

Velten went on to say "We are able to use this to improve on photography to relight pictures with the knowledge of the scene for example we can change the lighting of the scene and replace materials in the scene we can learn something about the object in the scene. We could also use subsurface scattering to learn about what's inside these objects.

"It's possible that medical imagining equipment that takes up entire rooms could one day be shrunk down to fit in your cell phone. And there's even more practical uses."

Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor, MIT Media Lab added "If we have the ability to process echos of light in a consumer device in the future you might look inside of an object and you could see if the fruit is very ripe. Or you could look under your skin to see how the wound is healing. Or you could walk into a room and take a picture and figure out which material is what; which one is wood, which is fabric and so on and you could do all of that by analyzing these echos of light."

"There are even military and law enforcement applications that could use the technology to see around corners by analyzing light waves."

"The Camera Culture group said that some even more exciting research will be announced in the coming months so stay tuned for that."

Video:  Andreas Velten, Di Wu, Ramesh Raskar, MIT Media Lab

Photo: Everett Lawson, MIT Media Lab

For movies with rendering, Velten, Wu and Raskar, MIT Media Lab

Setup photo, Everett Lawson, MIT Media Lab