Molecules are captured on video at 1,600 frames per second

Hyperaxion Jun 6, 2020

Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Japan, captured fullerene molecules on video at an impressive 1,600 frames per second.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo, Japan, made a super-accurate video of the motion of fullerene molecules. These molecules are composed of 60 carbon atoms each. The results were shared in the Bulletin of the Chemical Society of Japan on Thursday (04).

When we make a video, the equipment we use takes several “photos” of what is being filmed. These captures are then displayed at high speed, which gives the impression of movement. The rate of images captured or displayed every second is known as “frames per second”. The higher the frames per second, the more accurate the recording.

Molecules are captured on video at 1,600 frames per second
(Credit: University of Tokyo).

In the new research, scientists were able to record the motion of molecules at a very high rate of 1600 frames per second – for reference, films are usually shown at 24 frames per second. This recording rate is at least 100 times faster than in previous scientific experiments.

According to Eiichi Nakamura, one of the researchers, the experiment was only possible thanks to a technique developed by the scientists themselves. The method allowed them to combine the images from a powerful electron microscope with those from a highly sensitive camera and then process everything in an advanced computer program.

“Previously, we successfully captured atomic-scale events in real time,” Nakamura said in a statement. “Our transmission electron microscope (TEM) gives incredible spatial resolution, but to see details of small-scale physical and chemical events well, you need high temporal resolution too. This is why we pursued an image capture technique that is much faster than earlier experiments, so we can slow down playback of the events and see them in a whole new way.”

Nakamura and his colleagues connected his transmission electron microscope (capable of detecting objects up to 1 angstrom or a tenth-billionth of a meter) to an imaging device called a direct electron detection camera, which captures thousands of frames per second. However, even with this powerful equipment, there was a huge obstacle to be overcome: the noise caused by other molecules.

“To compensate for this noise and achieve greater clarity, we used an image-processing technique called Chambolle total variation denoising,” explained Koji Harano, co-author of the study. “You may not realize, but you have probably seen this algorithm in action as it is widely used to improve image quality of web videos.”

The researchers tested their device on vibrant carbon nanotubes that contained fullerene – and it worked. As the article explains, the video shows the motion of molecules in an unprecedented way. “We were pleasantly surprised that this denoising and image processing revealed the unseen motion of fullerene molecules,” noted Harano. “This could prove to be a very useful tool to those who explore the microscopic world.”


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