Nature photonics (January 2013): Dispersive Fourier transformation is an emerging measurement technique that overcomes the speed limitations of traditional optical instruments and enables fast continuous single-shot measurements in optical sensing, spectroscopy and imaging. Using chromatic dispersion, dispersive Fourier transformation maps the spectrum of an optical pulse to a temporal waveform whose intensity mimics the spectrum, thus allowing a single-pixel photodetector to capture the spectrum at a scan rate significantly beyond what is possible with conventional space-domain spectrometers. Over the past decade, this method has brought us a new class of real-time instruments the permit the capture of rare events such as optical rogue waves and rare cancer cells in blood, which would otherwise be missed using conventional instruments.