Science & Technology

Vantablack Is the Blackest Material Ever Made

Just when you thought nothing could be blacker than your ex-boyfriend's heart, here comes Vantablack. This stuff is the definition of darkness. It's a manmade material that absorbs 99.965 percent of ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light. To give you an idea of what that actually looks like, Vantablack has been described as the closest thing to a black hole we'll ever see.

Didn't See That One Coming

British company Surrey NanoSystems developed the super-black coating in 2004, dubbing it Vantablack. It's so dark that the human eye can't discern its shape and dimension, which means that spraying a basketball with Vantablack will make it look like a completely flat, black portal to another dimension. It renders objects virtually invisible.

The material is able to get so incomprehensibly dark thanks to nanotubes, tiny tubes that are roughly 3,500 times smaller than a human hair and so tightly packed that light particles have no space to bounce around and escape. Thus, the Vantablack gobbles up essentially all light that dares fall upon it.

The inventors grew the nanotubes on sheets of aluminum foil. Even on the crunchy, crinkled up foil, Vantablack gave the illusion of a smooth silk. "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," Ben Jensen, the firm's chief technical officer, told The Independent. Photos of Vantablack-atized items are slightly unnerving — imagine Wile E. Coyote's tunnel rock paintings come to life.

Dark Horse

Surrey NanoSystems somehow managed to up the blackness in early 2016, announcing that Vantablack is so incredibly black, we don't even have the tools to figure how black it is. How exhausting. "Even running a high-power laser pointer across it barely reflects anything back to the viewer," the researchers explain in a YouTube video. "We have never before made a material so black that it can't be picked up on our spectrometers in the infrared."

Vantablack makes for a trippy photo, sure, but it wasn't just developed to be a mind-blowing party trick. (It's not available for commercial use anyway, so there goes that dream.) According to Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack was initially developed for "satellite-borne blackbody calibration systems." Since it came onto the scene, more applications have been considered: addressing light-suppression and light-management problems, as well as space-borne scientific instrumentation and luxury goods. Fingers crossed that one day Vantablack t-shirts hit the market.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. When you "see" something, the photons not absorbed by the object bounce off the object and hit your eyes. 00:05

  2. Vantablack is the blackest material ever built; it absorbs more than 99.9% of visible light. 00:26

  3. Covering something in Vantablack would automatically give it the illusion that it is two-dimensional. 00:54

Written by Joanie Faletto January 13, 2018

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