Vantablack: The Blackest Material in Existence
In the words of the popular cult classic Spinal Tap, “How much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black.” Well, maybe not none more black, but it’s pretty close. Vantablack is a manmade substance produced by Surrey NanoSystems in the UK, and it is the blackest material in existence. The name Vantablack stands for vertically aligned nanotube array black, which refers to the structure of the material. It is composed of a “forest” of carbon nanotubes grown on a substrate, which makes it extraordinarily unreflective. In fact, Vantablack absorbs more than 99.965% of light (it abosorbs so much light that it cannot actually be measured). This includes not only all visible light, but also UV and infrared light. To the naked eye, looking at this substance is like looking at a black hole.
Vantablack, however, does more than create fascinating optical illusions. In addition to its light absorption properties, this material is highly resistant to temperature changes and extreme shock or vibrations, though it needs a protective coating to prevent damage from abrasions. Its tolerance of extreme conditions makes it useful in space applications. For example, optical sensing instruments, like star observation systems, often experience interference from stray light. Vantablack absorbs far more light than any black coating currently used on these instruments, and would therefore improve their performance.
While it was designed for use in space, Vantablack is also useful for in a variety of more mundane situations. A more commonplace use for this material is coating solar collectors. The purpose of solar collectors is to absorb as much light as possible in order to convert it to energy, which makes Vantablack an ideal coating. You can’t really do much better than over 99.965% absorption. Vantablack even has the potential to be used in art and fashion. The optical effect of this material is captivating; it is so black that it can even make three-dimensional surfaces appear two-dimensional. It is both a color and an illusion at the same time, and could lend itself to extraordinary visual phenomena. These are just a few of the uses attributed to the material so far, and its creators are discovering more every day.