Hugh Pickens writes "Researchers have developed a camera that snaps images less than a half a billionth of a second long and can capture over six million images in a second continuously. Dubbed Serial Time-Encoded Amplified imaging, or Steam, the technique depends on carefully manipulating so-called 'supercontinuum' laser pulses. While other cameras used in scientific research can capture shorter-lived images, they can only capture about eight images, and have to be triggered to do so for a given event. The Steam camera, by contrast, can capture images continuously, making it ideal for random events that cannot be triggered. Keisuke Gode, lead author of the study, and his colleagues used their camera to image minute spheres flowing along a thin tube of water in a microfluidic device." (More below.)High Pickens continues: "Using the STEAM camera they were able to image the spheres at a frame rate of 6.1 megahertz — in other words, the camera took a picture once every 163 nanoseconds. The camera could be used for studies of combustion, laser cutting and any system that changes quickly and unpredictably. One important application would be analyzing flowing blood samples. Because the imaging of individual cells in a volume of blood is impossible for current cameras, a small random sample is taken and those few cells are imaged manually with a microscope. 'But, what if you needed to detect the presence of very rare cells that, although few in number, signify early stages of a disease?,' asks Gode, citing circulating tumor cells as a perfect example of such a target. The team is working to extend the technique to 3-D imaging with the same time resolution, and to increase the effective number of pixels in a given image from 2,500 to 100,000."