Motion microscopy for visualizing and quantifying small motions

Neal Wadhwa, Justin G. Chen, Jonathan B. Sellon, Donglai Wei, Michael Rubinstein, Roozbeh Ghaffari, Dennis M. Freeman, Oral Büyüköztürk, Pai Wang, Sijie Sun, Sung Hoon Kang, Katia Bertoldi, Frédo Durand, William T. Freeman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Although the human visual system is remarkable at perceiving and interpreting motions, it has limited sensitivity, and we cannot see motions that are smaller than some threshold. Although difficult to visualize, tiny motions below this threshold are important and can reveal physical mechanisms, or be precursors to large motions in the case of mechanical failure. Here, we present a “motion microscope,” a computational tool that quantifies tiny motions in videos and then visualizes them by producing a new video in which the motions are made large enough to see. Three scientific visualizations are shown, spanning macroscopic to nanoscopic length scales. They are the resonant vibrations of a bridge demonstrating simultaneous spatial and temporal modal analysis, micrometer vibrations of a metamaterial demonstrating wave propagation through an elastic matrix with embedded resonating units, and nanometer motions of an extracellular tissue found in the inner ear demonstrating a mechanism of frequency separation in hearing. In these instances, the motion microscope uncovers hidden dynamics over a variety of length scales, leading to the discovery of previously unknown phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11639-11644
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number44
StatePublished - Oct 31 2017


  • Image processing
  • Motion
  • Visualization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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