Engineers at the UCLA have created the world’s fastest camera – so fast that it can take 36.7 million pictures a second.

Attached to a microscope, the camera uses a method known as STEAM, serial time-encoded amplified photography, which uses laser light to produce photographs. Its shutter speed is 27 picoseconds. For context, one second is one million picoseconds.

The camera is now being used predominantly for cancer research. When cells are passed under the camera at nine miles per hour through a microfluidic system, the camera can analyze 100,000 of them every second – which is 100 times more quickly than any other camera currently in existence. With it, pictures of millions of cells can be photographed, and then are amplified and analyzed by computer. The camera can detect rare cancer cells in blood flow – and has a false positive rate of only one in a million.

The cell monitoring that is presently used is called flow cytometry, which passes cells through a laser. It’s fast by ordinary standards, able to view thousands of cells a second. However, instead of producing an image, cytometry analyzes voltage and other properties.

The system is limited only by the speed of the particles. Cells can only move through the microfluidic speed at a certain amount of time before causing a pressure buildup. If developers can modify that part, the camera would be able to photograph 200,000 cells a second.

The ability at seeing and isolating rare cells amidst of a large mass of cells has become incredibly important for the practice of monitoring treatment and identifying diseases early. The use of this camera obviously has uses for cancer, but also for stem cell research.

The development and description of the mechanism is outlined in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.