From The Editor | May 10, 2023

High Speed, High Frequency, High Res: A Look At 3 Novel Uses Of Cameras

John Oncea

By John Oncea, Editor


Researchers around the world have been working on ways to improve cameras. Here, we look at three discoveries that increase the speed, frequency, and resolutions of cameras.

My daughter’s boyfriend bought a Polaroid Now instant camera, one of those point-and-click, spit out a picture, and wait for it to develop deals. Or, as people my age know it, one of those cameras we had when we were kids.

It’s pretty neat and he’s currently using it to take at least one picture a day, every day for a year. These two pictures of my dog, Moose, were taken while the three of them were out hiking. Good thing he’s sitting still because if he was moving at all there’d be no picture to share. Heck, even the shot with him yawning is a bit blurry.

But we’d be in business if he’d bought a high-speed camera. Or a high-res camera. Or even a high-frequency camera. I guess living on a college student’s budget can get in the way of purchases now and then.

That said, let’s take a look at how the three types of cameras I just mentioned are being used to capture atomic activity, make nanosized objects visible, and turn phone cameras into microscopes.

Seeing Through Dynamic Disorder Atoms

“To take a picture, the best digital cameras on the market open their shutter for around one four thousandths of a second,” writes ScienceAlert. “To snapshot atomic activity, you'd need a shutter that clicks a lot faster.”

Now, researchers at Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science (go Lions!) and Université de Bourgogne have developed a way of achieving a shutter speed that's a mere trillionth of a second, or 250 million times faster than those digital cameras. This innovation allows us to capture the local disorder in materials which is “when clusters of atoms move and dance around in a material in specific ways over a certain period – triggered by vibration or a temperature change, for example. It's not a phenomenon that we fully understand yet, but it's crucial to the properties and reactions of materials.”

The invention, which the researchers are referring to as variable shutter atomic pair distribution function (vsPDF), uses neutrons to measure atomic positions with a shutter speed of around one picosecond, a trillion times faster than normal camera shutters.

“It’s only with this new vsPDF tool that we can see this side of materials,” said Simon Billinge, professor of materials science and applied physics and applied mathematics. “It gives us a whole new way to untangle the complexities of what is going on in complex materials, hidden effects that can supercharge their properties. With this technique, we’ll be able to watch a material and see which atoms are in the dance and which are sitting it out.”

“To achieve its astonishingly quick snap, vsPDF uses neutrons to measure the position of atoms, rather than conventional photography techniques,” ScienceAlert writes. “The way that neutrons hit and pass through a material can be tracked to measure the surrounding atoms, with changes in energy levels the equivalent of shutter speed adjustments.

“Those variations in shutter speed are significant, as well as the trillionth-of-a-second shutter speed: they're vital in picking out dynamic disorder from the related but different static disorder – the normal background jiggling on the spot of atoms that don't enhance a material's function.”

Billinge is now working on making his technique easier to use for the research community and applying it to other systems with dynamic disorder. At the moment, the technique is not turn-key, but with further development, it should become a much more standard measurement that could be used on many material systems where atomic dynamics are important, from watching lithium moving around in battery electrodes to studying dynamic processes during water-splitting with sunlight.

Peeling Back The Curtain Into The World Of Extremely Small Objects

Physicists at the Australian National University (ANU) are using nanoparticles to increase light frequency and resolution of imaging systems, reports Thanks to this breakthrough discovery, researchers can now observe objects that are thousands of times smaller than human hair. This development is highly significant for medical science as it provides an affordable and efficient solution for analyzing minuscule objects that are invisible to the human eye and even microscopes.

“The work could also be beneficial for the semiconductor industry and improve quality control of the fabrication of computer chips,” writes. “The ANU technology uses carefully engineered nanoparticles to increase the frequency of light that cameras and other technologies see by up to seven times. The researchers say there is ‘no limit’ to how high the frequency of light can be increased. The higher the frequency, the smaller the object we can see using that light source.”

“Scientists who want to generate a highly-magnified image of an extremely small, nanoscale object can't use a conventional optical microscope. Instead, they must rely on either super-resolution microscopy techniques or use an electron microscope to study these tiny objects,” lead author Dr. Anastasiia Zalogina, from the ANU Research School of Physics and the University of Adelaide, said. “But such techniques are slow and the technology is very expensive, often costing more than a million dollars. Another disadvantage of electron microscopy is that it may damage delicate samples being analyzed, whereas light-based microscopes mitigate this issue.”

Co-author Dr. Sergey Kruk, also from ANU, said the use of the technology in the semiconductor industry as a quality control measure ensuring a streamlined manufacturing process is one benefit. “Computer chips consist of very tiny components with feature sizes almost as small as one billionth of a meter. During the chip production process, it would be beneficial for manufacturers to use tiny sources of extreme-ultraviolet light to monitor this process in real-time to diagnose any problems early on.”

Is That A High-Resolution Microscope In Your Pocket?

Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have created the world’s smallest silicon LED and holographic microscope, opening up a wide range of potential applications including turning a smartphone camera into a portable, high-resolution microscope, reports New Atlas. The device is less than a micrometer wide and may make off-chip emitters a thing of the past.

“Previous on-chip emitters have been difficult to integrate into standard complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) platforms,” New Atlas writes. “Here, the researchers placed their tiny silicon LED in a 55 nm CMOS node alongside the other photonic and electronic components – all on one chip.”

Researchers integrated an LED into a lensless holographic microscope, which produces images by scattering light onto a digital image sensor. However, accurate image reconstruction can be difficult due to factors like aperture and distance. To solve this, a neural networking algorithm was implemented to improve accuracy. The resulting images were more precise and high-resolution than those from traditional optical microscopes, with a resolution of approximately 20 micrometers.

“On top of its immense potential in lensless holography, our new LED has a wide range of other possible applications,” said Rajeev Ram, corresponding author of the study. “Because its wavelength is within the minimum absorption window of biological tissues, together with its high intensity and nanoscale emission area, our LED could be ideal for bio-imaging and bio-sensing applications, including near-field microscopy and implantable CMOS devices.”