How High-Speed Photography Unlocked the Mechanics of Motion

Kim Vandiver: “So, how do you take a picture
of a bullet going through an apple. All high speed single shot pictures, have
one key ingredient, that has to happen and that is the triggering. How do you know when to set off the flash. That’s the trick in every high speed photograph. The bullet is traveling along, it’s faster
than speed of sound, it has a shock wave that goes like a V behind it. Down here out of the picture, is a microphone. When the shockwave hits the microphone, the
microphone trips the flash and you catch the bullet at that position. “ These photographs were taken by Harold Edgerton,
an inventor and electrical engineering professor at MIT. Doc, as he was known on campus, was looking
for a way to study the subtle dynamics of air, fluids and engines. Kim Vandiver: “Edgerton was studying large
electric motors. he used primitive strobe devices to study the rotation…and he didn’t
like what he had for equipment. So, he started inventing his own.” “It takes less than a second to smash an
electric lightbulb with a hammer. The Edgerton camera shows what really happened
in less than a second.” Kim Vandiver: “A synchronized stroboscope,
is something that repeats, and it repeats at the same rate as the event that you’re
watching.” Edgerton demonstrated how his strobe works
in a short documentary film titled, Quick’n a Wink. Kim Vandiver: “If you can imagine a fan
blade rotating around. If a flash goes off at exactly the same position
each time, to you it looks like it’s stopped. And, if you slightly change the flash rate,
the propellor will look like it’s very slowly moving.” Jim Bales: “Edgerton could control the flashes
in a way his predecessors couldn’t. He could get brighter flashes that were lit
for a shorter period of time with more precise timing on exactly when the strobe would go
off. That technical capability coupled with his
extraordinary photographer’s eye allowed him to take the photos that became the icons for
the world.” Kim Vandiver: “Doc’s pictures, many of them,
just had this startle factor to it, because they just had never been possible before.” Jim Bales: “When you look at that beautiful
crown, that splash of the drop of milk, it turns out it’s telling us fluid dynamics that
to this day we still don’t understand. What seems to be happening is when the drop
hits, jets of liquid come squirting out in the sides, but there’s air resistance and
somehow that turns it up into the sheet. And at that point you’ve exhausted my understanding
of fluid dynamics.” With an electric current passing through a
tube filled with gas, Doc found new ways to produce high intensity, short bursts of light
that could freeze time, and turn it into a moment we could all witness. Kim Vandiver: “He set about to make flash
photography so popular, that the demand would force an industry response to start making
it, and he obviously succeeded. The way he did it was to equip the sports
photographer’s with flash equipment. He took a picture of boxer Joe Louis knocking
out his opponent, just at the instant of impact, and nobody had ever seen it a picture like
that before. So, that’s help put high speed photography,
and Doc Edgerton on the map.” During World War II, Edgerton’s techniques
caught the attention of the U.S. military, who asked him to develop a giant strobe for
aerial reconnaissance missions. After the War ended, the Atomic Energy Commission
wanted to leverage his techniques for another special project: photographing nuclear weapon
tests. Kim Vandiver: “What it takes to make a electronic
flash, turns out to require very much the same kind of circuitry, as it takes to set
off a bomb. Nuclear blasts put out a lot of radiation,
a lot of x-rays, and x-rays fog film. So, that made it particularly difficult to
take a picture of a atomic bomb blast. They invented a magneto optic shutter. It was basically a piece of quartz, with a
magnetic field, and a magnetic field on quartz changes, what’s called a polarization. So, you could change it very fast, so you
let the light through to take the picture, and turn it back off again and stop the light
from coming in. And, each one of these still cameras had one
of those, and each one opened it at a slightly different time, so with 200 cameras you could
get a movie of 200 pictures, and it was called the Rapatronic camera.” The magnetic field shutter was so fast that
it could capture critical details of how a bomb’s fireball evolved over time. It also revealed the mottling of the fireball,
which are those spots you see here inside the explosion. The camera became a valuable diagnostic tool
scientists could use to understand exactly what happens during an atomic bomb detonation. Edgerton helped scientists and engineers uncover
dynamics at the millisecond level, revealing subtleties about the mechanics of nature & physics
that were just hiding in plain sight. Jim Bales: “Edgerton to the best of my knowledge
always considered himself an engineer. Not an artist, not a photographer.” Kim Vandiver: “He was a person who had a
good sense of humor. He liked people. He was very encouraging, so if you walked
in and said, I’ve always wanted to try building this kind of a circuit, he’d say, well, there’s
a soldering iron and a work bench, what are you waiting for.” Edgerton is considered the father of modern
high speed photography, and his legacy lives on in everything from slow-motion videos we
see on YouTube to the advanced imaging techniques we see in labs trying to capture details at
the cellular level. Jim Bales: “If you look at the high speed
world today, the technology is fundamentally different from what Edgerton did. He worked with high speed film cameras where
the film would be coming behind the lens and you’d use a strobe light to freeze the motion,
or other techniques with film. Today they have a high speed video camera
designed to capture megapixel images at thousands or tens of thousands of frames a second. While that technology is new, beyond that
the techniques are really the same. There are strange and wonderful things happening
on time scales our eyes can’t capture, and that it’s possible to capture them and take
it apart and dissect the motion and learn something new, helping people see things that
they hadn’t seen before.” For more science documentaries, check out
this one right here. Don’t forget to subscribe and keep coming
back to Seeker for more videos.

98 Replies to “How High-Speed Photography Unlocked the Mechanics of Motion

  1. I love seeker. I'm a huge nerd and just love learning about anything science. My family sees me staring at my phone all the time and assume I'm on tinder or whatever but I don't care because I'm smarter than them in a lot of areas because of videos like the ones produced by seeker. I love learning and I'm a visual learner so THANK YOU for allowing me to. I never learned in school so channels like y'all's really do make the difference

  2. I have made an application to capture lightnings and can't wait to share it with the world. It is great to listen to such stories of the past to get encouraged!

  3. Have you seen the new ability to actually pan the camera's mirror to follow a bullet's path instead of just stationary camera angles? Amazing stuff.

  4. This is what I went to college for. MATC in Milwaukee offered it in the 1970s. Photography was one half. Electronics was the other half. And a few liberal arts for good measure. Now I am a programmer and I use similar principals and methods to take snapshots of data writing programs as my camera.

  5. I found new life hack to capture high speed picture
    1.record using screen recorder with slow mode
    3.pause at the best moment

  6. Really good watch thank you. We used to use strobes in the cleanroom industry to see how air units were functioning and if they were spinning at the correct speed. Always fun.

  7. This is the best and most amazing video I have ever seen here. If you made more like this I would watch EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!! Really great job guys!

  8. Finally, one of those good Seeker videos I am here for! I’ve been subscribed since 2016 but 2018 is when you guys weren’t putting good content anymore so I started watching less! Please please please do more videos like this!

  9. The end of this video is the most important part. Being able to capture video/picture of things we don't understand will help us tremendously in the future.

  10. Didn't even give a shout out to the 1 trillion FPS camera that can capture a packet of photons moving through a bottle.

  11. This channel can also be called "Questions most people never aksed themself but when they watch these nice videos they get interested".d

  12. Papa Flash was a genius and his students at MIT loved him. He's one of those people most people never heard of but rely on his developments almost everyday. If every teacher was as gifted as him we would increase the economic output by a factor of 10.

  13. What I'm going to say to police if police find out I have a gun
    They wont believe if I say I'm doing a high speed photography

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