You know that little black dress you’ve had your eye on, because black hides imperfections?
Well, it’s about to get significantly blacker.
Surrey Nanosystems has just released details on their newest product, called Vantablack. It is a carbon nanotube-based system (where each tube is just one atom thick), and the special way that these nanotubes are arranged causes much more light to be absorbed into the surface rather than reflected back. In fact, the surface coating is predominantly free space, with only 0.05% of the surface actually consisting of carbon nanotubes.
As the colour black is a representation of light not being reflected, this means that the result is an incredibly dark black surface. In fact, you would not be able to see any contours or shapes on the surface, as your eye would have no light to distinguish subtle changes based on light and shadow. Even a crumpled up piece of aluminium foil would look equally dark at all points, essentially looking two dimensional.
So black in fact, that we can’t tell how black this surface is anymore. Watch the video below to find out more.
The previous version of Vantablack was estimated to absorb 99.965% of all visible light which hit it. In March 2016, a new version was released, which the scientists say is even darker, and in fact their instruments can’t determine exactly how much light is reflected anymore.
There are two types of Vantablack currently available, based on the two ways of applying the nanotubes. The darkest version will bond to solid surfaces and is produced in a high-temperate plasma reaction chamber, although so far this has only been applied to metals and crystals / ceramics. For more complex shapes or those at a lower temperature, there is also a spray-on version called Vantablack S-VIS, which can be put on many other substances and still absorbs 99.8% of light.
You might be asking yourself though, what is the point of this innovation? Well, this substance is useful anywhere that requires precise light measurements, such as inside a space telescope. By lining the insides of the telescope housing in this material, it will trap any stray photons getting into the equipment, meaning the signal which makes it to the detector should only be from the area being focused on. It also has applications in other light-based instruments, such as future light based computer chips which use photons instead of electrons.
However, a major drawback is that since the nanotubes are so fragile, you cannot use this surface for anything that is going to experience friction or contact.
So unfortunately, that little super-black dress to hide all your imperfections isn’t around the corner quite yet.
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