Spotlight TEDx Talk: Can we “freeze” light?

Professor Daniele Faccio's light-detecting camera (Photo: Daniele Faccio)

Professor Daniele Faccio’s light-detecting camera (Photo: Daniele Faccio)

Physicist Daniele Faccio is in the business of capturing light. The Heriot-Watt University professor searches for ways to document light at its weakest — in single photons — by developing cameras so sensitive that they “freeze” light in motion.

“Light doesn’t travel with infinite speed,” he says in a talk at TEDxHeriotWattUniversity. “It travels at about 300 million meters per second. What that means is it must take light some amount of time to travel from one point to another, [but] we [humans] don’t actually have the ability to see this actually happening in real time.”

But could we? Yes, Faccio says. With the help of lasers. And really, really sensitive diodes. His Extreme Light Group at Heriot-Watt developed a camera that has captured the very first video of a single pulse of light moving in air, thanks to just this. The camera, fit with rows of diodes and connected to a laser, marks the location and time-of-detection for every photon it comes in contact with  — in picoseconds (a.k.a. one trillionth of a second).

And not only does the Extreme Light Group’s camera help us gain insight into the behavior of light at its most fundamental, but its photon-detecting technology could also be applied elsewhere, says Faccio. For what? Just things like looking through walls, seeing around corners and peering straight into the human body … from the outside.

Watch Faccio’s whole talk below to learn more:

Insight from the TEDx office — why we like this talk:

The speaker is a research scientist who uses technology to look into mysteries of our universe. In this talk, he presents technology — produced by members of his team — that provides insight into the fundamental elements of light. He presents a complex topic in a way that is understandable to an audience beyond his peers and uses instructive visuals to help explain the mechanics behind this technology. He is passionate about his subject, an expert on its application and offers a preview of what could come next in its development.

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