It sure sounds like “laser speckle imaging” is the sort of thing you’d need grant money to experiment with, but as [anfractuosity] recently demonstrated, you can get some very impressive results with a relatively simple hardware setup and some common open source software packages. In fact, you might already have all the components required to pull this off in your own workshop right now and just not know it.
Anyone who’s ever played with a laser pointer is familiar with the sparkle effect observed when the beam shines on certain objects. That’s laser speckle, and it’s created by the beam reflecting off of microscopic variations in the surface texture and producing optical interference. While this phenomenon largely prevents laser beams from being effective direct lighting sources, it can be used as a way to measure extremely minute perturbations in what would appear to be an otherwise flat surface.
In this demonstration, [anfractuosity] has combined a simple red laser pointer with a microscope’s 25X objective lens to produce a wider and less intense beam. When this diffused beam is cast onto a wall, the speckle pattern generated by the surface texture can plainly be seen. What’s not obvious to the naked eye is that touching the wall with your hand actually produces a change in the speckle pattern. But if you take high-resolution before and after shots, the images can be run through OpenCV to highlight the differences and reveal a ghostly hand-print.