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Ultra high-speed cameras and the art of making popcorn look epic


Using social media to show-and-tell with the latest, cutting-edge devices

If it's not the latest red-hot consumer gadget, it's tough for the more science-based, cutting-edge tech to make it to the headlines. In these times of increased political engagement and limited attention spans, you need to stand proud and shout loud to get noticed amid all the clutter.

Or you make something suitably left-field and interesting in the hope that it goes viral.

Following in the same line as the 'soda + Mentos' viral classic, as well as the more recent Hydraulic Press channel (which shows objects being squashed by unstoppable machinery in painstaking slow motion), a recent YouTube video shows the unseen details of what happens when our favorite cinema snack explodes into life.

If you have not seen it before, this is possibly the most fun you'll have all day.

Apart from the video being a mesmerizing display of that fleeting moment when popcorn leaps into delicious existence, it's also a showcase of the capability of a brand new hi-tech, high-speed camera – The Vision Research Phantom v2512.

The Phantom v2512 is manufactured by Vision Research, a New Jersey-based tech company who produce high-speed digital cameras for a variety of industries ranging from manufacturing and defense to entertainment and scientific research.

This particular camera is capable of capturing 25 gigapixels-per-second of data, with a megapixel resolution of 1280 x 800, and it manages to capture lightning-fast moments at crawling-glacier speeds thanks to its insanely high frame rate.

If you consider that standard film when running at a normal speed is 24 frames per second (fps), the v2512, at maximum resolution can capture images at a staggering 25,000 fps. If you rein the resolution back a bit, it's even possible to get up to a colossal 1,000,000 fps. The Phantom v5212 with its six-figure price-tag stands alongside the less, (but still ridiculously), expensive Flek4K – a machine capable of a more modest 2,000fps.

Yeah, Science! It's not all fun and games

As much as we love seeing the impossible up close and super slow, (watch this Mythbusters footage of slow-mo bullet cam), high-speed cameras are often used in science in order to accurately measure events that happen too fast for traditional observation.

Biomechanics requires slow-motion footage to record animal movements to help build better robots and exoskeletons, and motion analysis of birds in flight inform engineers about improvements to aeronautics. High-speed cameras are also used alongside x-ray technology to witness events inside a whole host of mechanical devices and biological specimens; this helps to accelerate understanding and improve design.

So it might not all be fun and games, but some results are still pretty to look at…

Back in 2015, Vision Research teamed up with experimental physicist, Zhehui Wang, and his team at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, in order to take a peak at exploding microparticles. This was done so that the team could make better simulations and predictions when creating physics models, but regardless of the in-depth science being explored - just look at how cool the footage is!

Getting the kids on board

Having a glimpse at events that occur in a blink of an eye may also be putting down roots in the general education space. And that is because one thing is for sure; these $100k price tags might not reduce at the same speed but, come down they will.

Consider the original samplers. When they first hit London in the early 1980s, the relative cost was in the same ballpark. However, something far more powerful is yours today for a few hundred bucks.

And, of course, that timescale is going to be subject to Moore's Law which means that this camera technology will be in the classroom and science lab in a few short years' time. All the while, it will be engaging more and more fertile young minds in the STEM subjects.

Then it really will be popcorn-time.

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