Science 3 min read

Scientists Develop the 'Blackest Black' Material Ever Made

Beating the previous record-holder “Vantablack,” MIT engineers created the blackest black material capable of absorbing 99.99 percent of visible light.

A 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond from LJ West Diamonds (left), is coated with a new carbon nanotube-based material that is the blackest material on record (the covered diamond, shown at right). The diamond is the subject of The Redemption of Vanity, a work of art created by MIT Center for Art, Science, and Technology artist-in-residence Diemut Strebe, in collaboration with MIT engineer Brian Wardle and his lab, on view at the New York Stock Exchange. | Image courtesy of MIT News

A 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond from LJ West Diamonds (left), is coated with a new carbon nanotube-based material that is the blackest material on record (the covered diamond, shown at right). The diamond is the subject of The Redemption of Vanity, a work of art created by MIT Center for Art, Science, and Technology artist-in-residence Diemut Strebe, in collaboration with MIT engineer Brian Wardle and his lab, on view at the New York Stock Exchange. | Image courtesy of MIT News

When incoming light encounters a substance, it can either pass through it, bounce off its surface, or get absorbed and converted into heat energy.

Whether a substance absorbs, reflects, or transmits light depends on three factors: the color of the material, its chemical composition, and the angle of incidence.

Unlike glass, which transmits light, dark-colored substances like coal “trap” light readily. But, natural dark elements can’t absorb all incident light, allowing some light to escape.

The “blackest black materials” ever, those capable of absorbing virtually all photons of light, are being synthesized in laboratories for a myriad of applications.

What This Blackest Black Material Good for?

In 2014, researchers at the UK-based company Surrey NanoSystems created a superblack coating made of pure carbon they dubbed Vantablack.

Vantablack (Vertically Aligned Nanotube Array black) was then the darkest material known, absorbing up to 99.96% of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light.

But now, five years later, thanks to the work of MIT engineers, it looks like Vantablack has finally met its match.

Researchers at MIT created a novel coating they say is the blackest black material ever. It is said to be ten times blacker than any other known black material, capturing at least 99.99% of incoming light.

Just like Vantablack, MIT’s material is also made of carbon nanotubes (CNTs). To create this material, the researchers grew microscopic filaments of CNTs, “like a fuzzy forest of tiny trees,” on sheets of chlorine-etched aluminum foil.

“Our material is 10 times blacker than anything that’s ever been reported, but I think the blackest black is a constantly moving target. Someone will find a blacker material, and eventually, we’ll understand all the underlying mechanisms, and will be able to properly engineer the ultimate black,” says Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

MIT’s coating is so black that it makes objects look as if they were photoshopped into a superdark void. The team coated a 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond with this ultrablack material, fooling anyone’s eyes into seeing nothing but absolute dark, flat, with no discernible shape or surface features.

Now called “The Redemption of Vanity,” this gem will be on exhibit at the New York Stock Exchange until November 25 as an artwork that further highlights the intersection of art and science.

Some artists have already taken the concept of superblack void and ran with it, creating amazing artworks like the Descent Into Limbo optical illusion.

Engineers aren’t exploring superblack substances for the fun of it. Many optical uses await these pitch-black materials in space, healthcare, luxury goods design, and many more.

Such materials could be used to improve the readings of space devices and instrumentation like telescopes, infrared systems, and cameras. The faintest of stars and exoplanets would be more detectable using these superblack light-absorbing coatings.

We still can’t match nature’s blackest black! The absolute darkest object ever would be black holes as these cosmic sinks are so powerful that no single photon can find an escape away from them.

Read More: New System Uses Reprogrammable Ink To Change Object Colors

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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