I became interested in ultra high-speed photography after seeing the amazing images of bullets in flight and other phenomena recorded by Harold Edgerton of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With ultra high-speed photography one could capture on film events impossible to see with the eye. I was determined to explore the technology of this new field. Over several years I managed to build my own ultra high-speed electronic flash equipment that could produce images with an exposure time of one millionth of a second. The electronic parts for the flash equipment came from Canal Street in New York City where war surplus items including high voltage transformers and capacitors could be purchased at less than 1/200th of their original cost. In those days most professional photographers were still using flash bulbs although a few were beginning to use electronic flashes with flash durations of 1/1000th of a second to capture the action of sports events. With my newly constructed equipment, I began to photograph many types of extremely high-speed phenomena at home in my basement.
I was a junior in high school in 1957, and we were in the Cold War. Suddenly the Soviet Union demonstrated that they could deliver payloads wherever they wanted when they launched the artificial satellite Sputnik. This event transformed the emphasis on math, science, and technology education in the United States. The financial spigot opened, and the flow of money created many opportunities for students interested in math, science, and technology. Public schools immediately became involved in helping to prepare students for careers in science and technology. They promoted science fairs where students would display and discuss projects they created. My physics teacher encouraged me to convert my hobby of ultra high-speed photography into a science fair project. To illustrate what could be done with extremely high-speed imaging, I decided to determine the fracture rate of glass by measuring the propagation speed of cracks in glass. I entered my project in the Westchester County science fair in 1959 and, to my amazement, won the event.
Ultra High-Speed Imagery: Photos obtained by Blair Savage when experimenting with ultra high-speed photography equipment. The series of images shows from left to right a bullet emerging from a rifle barrel, the pellets and wadding of a shot gun blast, and a vacuum tube shattering shortly after the passage of a bullet. Ultra high-speed imagery today has many important industrial applications.
Credit: Courtesy of Blair Savage