Trillion frame-per-second camera??

This MIT News story talks about a “trillion frame per second” camera. This Wired.com blog post tries a little too hard to debunk it, but takes things to literally.

Yes, the camera doesn’t actually collect 1 trillion complete images a second, but it does use statistical techniques to collect information about a multitude of photon pathways to create a “model” of photon behavior when interacting with an object that, if done directly, would take a camera capable of 1 trillion fps.

This is one of those cases when physicists try to use “common language analogy” to get an idea across to a lay audience, which is then parsed literally by a critic looking for a ‘gotcha moment’ or is irked by a flaw in siad analogy. This would be like a traditional radar expert criticizing inverse synthetic aperture radar as “not being an actual, really big array.” OK, it uses some ‘science tricks” to behave in special circumstances like a really big aperture, just as this camera uses “science tricks” to behave as though it can “see” event of short temporal extent, by repeating them over and over and cataloging the scattered photons.

The MIT guys should have been more careful in their language, but popular writers about science, who should know better, need to educate the audience about the concept the scientist may have used poorly chosen analogy to describe, not use it as a “gee look how dumb those MIT guys are, snicker, snicker” moment.

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About Paul Vebber

"If you read about something, you have learned about it. If you can teach something, you have mastered it. Designing a useful game about something however, requires developing a deep understanding of how it relates to other things."

Posted on December 14, 2011, in Cool Stuff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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