Basically, nanosecond laser pulses are shone on an object. In front of the camera is a narrow slit, so that only a thin slice of the laser light can be seen at one time -- the technical name for this device is a "streak camera." The laser pulses, with very complex timing circuitry, are then picked up by an array of 500 sensors in the camera -- but only one "scan line" at a time (thanks to the narrow slit). Using mirrors, the camera's angle of view is changed over time until each of these one-dimensional slices can be built up into a complete 2D image. This process, which takes about an hour, has led to one of its creators -- Ramesh Raskar -- to dub this trillion-FPS wonder "the world's slowest fastest camera."
While the project itself has no definite aim after this stage, many possibilities lie in its future. This camera allows the naked eye to see what was once only described through charts and formulas. It is literally a new way to see the world.
The trillion frames per second camera will most likely never see any practical purpose as, well, a camera. However, it may be able to reveal more about the structure of biological tissue and manufactured materials. Raskar sees it as a a possible ultrasound with light. It also opens new doors in understanding how photons move.
So much more about the trillion frames per second camera can be found at MIT’s page or the New York Times.
For a more skeptical take, visit Wired.
Below are two videos of the camera in action: