Some things happen too fast for the human eye to see. The blades of a spinning fan, for example, look like a blur to us. They move too quickly for our eyes to see them the way we do when the fan is off.

The same thing happens when we look at a flame. It may look like a slowly waving sheet of warm light to the human eye, but in reality it is a swirling chemical process that changes faster than we can see. Even digital cameras have a hard time recording combustion processes.

The dynamic nature of the flames requires a high-speed camera that can record thousands of images per second with each one of those images recorded in a fraction of a second. But while images can be captured during those brief periods, a regular high-speed camera can’t capture enough light to produce a clear image. It’s a challenge that combustion researchers have struggled with for a long time.

Combustion cycle of a fuel injection engine.

Combustion cycle of a fuel injection engine.

The solution is a camera that is both fast and extremely sensitive to light. We combined these advanced features into one system with the HiCAM, a high-speed camera with an unparalleled light sensitivity. It records clear images in an instant and produces super-slow motion videos that accurately show the behavior of a flame. With the HiCAM, researchers are now able to quantitatively study combustion processes in combustion burners and in fuel injection engines.