University of Wisconsin builds world's fastest digital camera

Fast action photography - the sort you see at boxing matches and football games - isn't fast enough to a University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist who is building the world's fastest camera. Pamela Klabbers, an Associate Scientist with the university, is leading a team to build a camera system capable of recording protons colliding at nearly the speed of light.

Dubbed the Regional Calorimeter Trigger, the "camera" actually represents several computer boards stored in an eight foot chassis that can process four trillion bits per second. Sometime next year, the RCT will be part of the 27-mile long Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland.

Proton collisions and the associated particles that they create may only last two-billionths of a second. Since the collision happens so fast, it's easier to take pictures of the aftereffects of a collision, rather than the collision itself. After a collision of two protons, many elementary particles are created, which, however, disappear shortly afterwards. In addition, a flash of light in the form of photons are also produced.

When the RCT detects the photons, the system starts taking pictures at one shot every 25 nanoseconds. However, not all the pictures are kept and the system analyzes every picture for interesting characteristics such as a stray photon or muon.

Not surprisingly, serious hardware powers the RCT. 300 sutom designed boards are working in a total of 18 crates. The camera has been in development for almost six years and so far has cost $6 million dollars. It is scheduled to be installed at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva Switzerland in 2007.