Technology

New Super Black Material Absorbs 99.965% Of Light

July 15, 2014 | by Stephen Luntz

Photo credit: Surrey Nanosystems. The blackness of this carbon nanotube material is so complete we can't tell if an object is flat or shaped.

Goths of the world, rejoice. Scientists have produced Vantablack, a product so dark it becomes impossible to make out shapes formed from it.

Surrey Nanosystems, a British nanoelectronics company have used carbon nanotubes 10,000 times thinner than a human hair to absorb 99.965% of visible light, a world record. The tubes are so small photons cannot get inside, but can fit into the small spaces between the tubes, where they are captured.

For comparison, fresh asphalt reflects 4% of the light that falls on it, and after a while this rises to 12%, while coal seldom gets below 0.5%.

"You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange," Surrey Nanosystems' technical director Ben Jensen told The Independent.

The manufacturers grow Vantablack (Vertically Aligned carbon NanoTube Array) on aluminum foil, making it easy to create complex topography that is entirely invisible to the eye. They point out their low-temperature nanotube growth processes give it a significant advantage past super-black materials that require high temperatures to produce, and are therefore incompatible with sensitive electronics.

While there is probably a market for practical jokes, Surrey Nanosystems are talking up the capacity of Vantablack to calibrate astronomical cameras and infrared scanners, which need to be shown the darkest object possible for comparison with tiny points of light. They also hint darkly at military uses, which may benefit from the enormous tensile strength and heat conductivity.

“We are now scaling up production to meet the requirements of our first customers in the defense and space sectors, and have already delivered our first orders,” said Jensen. So far at least Vantablack is far too expensive to be used for clothes or toys but Jensen said, "You would lose all features of a dress. It would just be something black passing through." 

The properties of Vantablack have been described in Optics Express.