Innovative imaging technologies have always had a knack for furthering science. Without telescopes (originally devised to help military commanders spot enemies on the battlefield), we might still have an Earth-centered view of the solar system. Without microscopes, we might still believe that flies spontaneously arise from rotting meat.
A few weeks ago, a few of my NOVA colleagues and I attended The Fine International Conference on Gigapixel Imaging and glimpsed some of the ways that this clever new technology is impacting not just science but also education and the art world.
What's a "gigapixel" image? Just what it sounds like--an image comprised of billions of pixels. (By contrast, the cherished family photos you may have on your computer are likely mere "megas.") To get a sense of their power, peruse this popular example, a political junkie's version of "Where's Waldo?":
(inauguration Gigapan copyright David Bergman)If you zoom in to the right spot, you can even see the details of Hillary Clinton's earrings. And the inauguration image is only 1.5 gigapixels. The largest to date, a stunning cityscape of Rio de Janeiro, is a whopping 152 gigapixels. Gigapixel imaging essentially combines robotics, digital cameras, and "stitching" software to create ultra-high-resolution pictures from hundreds or even thousands of smaller pictures. (The Rio record-breaker used over 12,000.)