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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/X017842/1
Title: Streaming Continuous Optical Nanosecond Events (SCONE)
Principal Investigator: Rowlands, Dr CJ
Other Investigators:
Choi, Dr J
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Bioengineering
Organisation: Imperial College London
Scheme: Standard Research - NR1
Starts: 14 February 2023 Ends: 13 May 2024 Value (£): 201,849
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Instrumentation Eng. & Dev. Optical Devices & Subsystems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
21 Jun 2022 New Horizons 2021 Full Proposal Panel Announced
23 Jun 2022 New Horizons Electronic and Electical Engineering Panel June 2022 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
We have always been fascinated by seeing things that are beyond the ordinary - the world that we take for granted every day can inspire wonderment when viewed from a different perspective. This was true when Robert Hooke published Micrographia in 1665; an instant classic, it gave people a view of the microscopic world around them that they otherwise took for granted. In the modern day, high-speed cameras let us see bullets in flight, the movement of electricity in a lightning strike, and the pop of a kernel of popcorn, but there are problems, modern ultrafast cameras are limited in what they can see. Cameras that can take infinite numbers of images of the sample (called streaming cameras) cannot push beyond ~2 million frames per second, whereas 'framing' cameras (which can significantly surpass this limit) can only observe a handful of frames before their capacity is exhausted. Streaming Continuous Optical Nanosecond Events (or SCONE) seeks to increase the imaging speed of streaming cameras by a factor of up to 16, such that they are competitive with framing cameras while still imaging over very long periods of time, to capture rare events and serendipitous occurrences.

SCONE works by shining light on the target at different angles. Because the light passes through the sample in more-or-less a straight line, the light can be separated into different paths once it has passed through the sample. Ordinarily this would just provide, say, ten different views of the exact same thing, but if instead we use a very short laser pulse, we can make sure the pulse from each angle arrives at a different time. Now the ten different views observe a different point in time, thus increasing the speed of the camera by a factor of ten.

Of course, actually making the pulses arrive at the sample at the right angle and the right time is where the risk and challenge lies. We start from a single laser outputting 200-femtosecond pulses (approximately the time it takes light to travel the width of a human hair) and focus them into an optical fibre. The fibre gets split into sixteen different fibres, each with a sixteenth of the original pulse energy. After splitting, each fibre connects to a different length of fibre which is used to delay the pulse by a certain amount before it comes out the other end. This means that by selecting the length of the fibres correctly, the resulting pulses emerge from the fibre at 57-nanosecond intervals. These can then each be steered towards the sample with a mirror.

There are many things this system could be used to look at. Astronomers are interested in the effects of hypervelocity impact on satellites and space stations. New explosives for mining need to be tested to see if they outperform existing materials. Ultrasound waves, travelling at kilometers per second, cause parts of the body to oscillate at tens of megahertz, far faster than any streaming camera can see. It is this last phenomenon we will first address.

One of the interesting things about high-powered ultrasound is that it can be combined with tiny injected microbubbles to break down the defences of the brain, known as the Blood-Brain Barrier. This would seem like a bad idea, but because this breakdown is brief and localized, we can use it to introduce drugs to the brain in a way that would normally be impossible. While we know that this breakdown works, we don't know why it works, because we can't see how the bubble moves as it works its way through the Barrier. It is here that SCONE comes into its own. By imaging the bubble at tens of millions of frames per second, for periods of up to a few seconds, we can observe all the unexpected and chaotic behaviour it goes through when exposed to ultrasound. From this we can improve the bubbles, improve the ultrasound parameters, and for the first time, really understand what is going on in this cutting-edge therapy. All of this can only be achieved with SCONE, the world's fastest streaming camera.
Key Findings
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Potential use in non-academic contexts
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Organisation Website: http://www.imperial.ac.uk