The Darkest Material in the World

June 17, 2016

Surrey NanoSystems/Wikimedia

Scientists in 2014 created the darkest material in the world called Vantablack. Then they bested themselves and made a version that was even darker.

Vantablack was created by a British company called Surrey NanoSystems, and it originally absorbed all but 0.035% of visual light when it first came out in 2014. The company then developed a new version of Vantablack that could be sprayed directly onto other objects. This version is so black that there isn’t an optical spectrometer (a device that measures the wavelength of light) available anywhere in the world with the sensitivity to test it. The material can even absorb light from a laser.

Vantablack is composed of millions of carbon nanotubes that are so small that each individual nanotube has a diameter of about 20 nanometers. That is 3,500 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. When light hits the surface of the Vantablack it enters the space between the millions of nanotubes. As light moves within the nanotube structure, it gets absorbed and can’t be reflected. This results in a black surface that comes as close as we know to what a black hole would look like since it reflects almost no light. It’s believed that one square centimeter of the surface holds one billion nanotubes, according to Surrey NanoSystems.

The appearance of Vantablack produces dramatic effects since there is almost no reflection from light. When it is put on a three-dimensional object, the object actually appears to be two-dimensional. Since Vantablack coats another surface, it’s almost impossible to see what it looks like. Any folds or creases on a surface appear flat or as if nothing is there. The human eye is unable to detect any surface changes without the reflection of light.

Vantablack is made through a process in a chemical vapor deposition chamber that uses lamps to increase the temperature of the surface to 430º Celsius. According to Surrey NanoSystems, this allows a carbon “nanotube forest to grow,” and the name derives from the term Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays. Of course it’s much more complicated than that.

Vantablack can be used for many applications where light is not wanted. Some examples the company gives for its use include sensors, satellite calibration, infrared cameras, and luxury products. It’s even being tested in the world of art.

Here’s a video of it in action.

Sources: Mirror Online, Science Alert, Business Insider, Surrey NanoSystems, Yahoo! News Canada

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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