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Now Available: Innovators Under 35 2013 See The 2013 List »

35 Innovators Under 35

Andreas Velten, 32

Spotting tiny problems with help from an ultrafast camera

University of Wisconsin, Madison

Velten's camera system is fast enough to freeze a beam of laser light as it traverses a bottle.

Photograph by M. Scott Brauer

Nothing moves too fast for Andreas Velten’s camera—not even light. Last year Velten, who built the camera while a postdoc at the MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture Group, made a video of laser light zipping through a plastic soda bottle. Capturing the equivalent of 600 billion frames per second, the slow-mo footage showed a ghostly light moving from one end of the bottle to the other. Equally remarkable, the camera can harness light reflected off surfaces to see around corners. Because the camera is so fast, it can detect how long it takes the different light rays to reach it, and an image can be reconstructed from that information.

It’s not just amazing gimmickry. Velten’s technology could lead to ultrafast medical imagers and scanners that use light instead of sound to detect tiny imperfections, whether in cancerous tissue or in airplane wings. It also suggests an approach to taking high-quality photos of scenes lit only by the tiny flash on a cell phone.

Velten’s table-mounted camera uses 672 carefully positioned and timed optical sensors, each capable of capturing a trillionth of a second’s worth of reflected laser light. The technical advance was figuring out how to modify a streak camera, a common piece of equipment in chemistry labs that measures the optical properties of laser light. That type of camera can capture only one horizontal line, or “streak,” of light at a time. Velten, combining his expertise in optics and computer science, developed custom software to repeat the scan over and over and combine the resulting data.

Now at the Morgridge Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Velten is applying his ultrafast imaging techniques to help develop new types of microscopy and biomedical imaging for clinical applications. One of the tools he envisions, for example, is a less invasive endoscope that could travel shorter distances to see deeper inside the body.

Conor Myhrvold

2012 TR35 Winners

Rana el Kaliouby

Teaching devices to tell a frown from a smile

Saikat Guha (video)

Letting advertisers send targeted pitches to your mobile phone without ever seeing your personal information

Chris Harrison (video)

Liberating us from the touch screen by turning skin and objects into input devices

John Hering

Securing our smartphones from spyware and rogue apps, with a little help from the crowds

Drew Houston

Hiding all the complexities of remote file storage behind a small blue box

Ren Ng (video)

By tracking the direction of light, a camera takes pictures that can be refocused on different objects in a scene

Hossein Rahnama (video)

Mobile apps that tell you what you need to know before you have to ask

Leila Takayama (video)

Applying the tools of social science to make robots easier to live and work with

Eben Upton

His ultracheap computer is perfect for tinkering

Andreas Velten (video)

Spotting tiny problems with help from an ultrafast camera

See This Years' Winners

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