The world’s ‘fastest’ imaging system, capable of capturing images at ‘6 million frames per second’, has been demonstrated by scientists in the United States.

The technology, which uses electronics from the fibre optics industry, is expected to have widespread applications in physics, biology and chemistry.

It could even be used to help detect abnormal cells and identity the early stages of the spread of a disease such as cancer, according to Bahram Jalali from the University of California, Los Angeles which has developed the technology.

Rather than using a CCD or CMOS imaging sensor, as used in traditional video cameras, the technology builds on a technique called ‘photonic time stretch’.

An image is reduced into a stream of light, scientists have told Nature magazine.

‘The new imager operates by capturing each picture with an ultrashort laser pulse – a flash of light a billionth of a second long,’ explain researchers.

‘It then converts each pulse to a serial data stream that resembles the data in a fibre optic network, rather than the signal coming out of a camera.

‘Using a technique known as amplified dispersive Fourier transform, these larger pulses, each containing an entire picture, are amplified and simultaneously stretched in time to the point that they are slow enough to be captured with an electronic digitiser.’

Called ‘Serial Time-Encoded Amplified Microscopy (STEAM)’, the world’s fastest ‘continuously running’ imaging technology could also be used, for example, to observe shockwaves and laser surgery.

Jalali claims that the process overcomes a fundamental problem of high-speed imaging: that the camera becomes less sensitive at higher and higher speeds.

He added: ‘At high frame rates, there is less time to collect photons in each frame before the signal becomes weaker and more prone to noise. The new imager overcomes this because it is the first to feature optical image amplification.’

Though the current resolution is reported to be only around 2,500 pixels, this can be improved, say researchers.

For full details of the technology click on the University of California website HERE.