Vantablack is the new black and the darkest known substance in the universe, a nanomaterial that is darker than any material on Earth. Developed in the UK by Surrey NanoSystems in 2015, it is a collection of vertical carbon tubes that are “grown” on a substrate.
Brian Wardle, MIT professor of aeronautics and director of the school’s materials engineering Necstlab, attempted to grow a layer of carbon nanotubes on a sheet of aluminum foil. The team was trying to increase the material’s thermal and electrical conductivity. If the scientists could make the experiment work, electronic components such as microprocessors could run even more efficiently.
Getting nanotubes to grow on the aluminum foil was a pretty big deal because, generally, nanotubes do not grow on aluminum. Nanotubes can’t form on aluminum because of a layer of oxide on the metal that blocks the process. However, the scientists had an idea, a very “sciencey” plan that involved saltwater corrosion reclaiming the top of the aluminum, 1000 degrees baking conditions, and tiny growing nanotubes.
When they finished, the experiment researchers were pleased to see that the trial run had worked, but all they had to show for their efforts was a very, very, very, black sheet of metal.
What they created was a material made up of nanotubes that were 3,500 smaller than the diameter of a human hair. Vantablack absorbs 99.98 percent of the light that hits its surface. When light hits the coating, it becomes trapped between the tiny nanotubes. What this means is the human eye technically sees nothing when looking at the blackness. It is the closest thing to seeing a black hole that we have to date.
“We grow a lot of different carbon nanotubes, and they’re all black, but at the time, we were working with an artist in the group [Diemut Strebe]. He was interested mostly in the optical properties of the carbon nanotubes, which is not my expertise. When we did this new growth, it looked blacker than the normal black stuff, so we decided to measure it and see what it was.” Said Wardle.
The new material wasn’t just black; it technically is ten times darker than any known blackness. To mark the discovery, artist Diemut Strebe coated a radiant, 16.78-carat yellow diamond with Vantablack. The $2 million diamond is an example of the most brilliant material on Earth. Covered with the carbon nanotubes, however, turned it into the blackest most light-absorbing material.
Vantablack S-VIS can by applied by Surrey NanoSystems, or they can license the technology for production facilities. In 2019 in Frankfurt, Germany BMW showed a 2020 X6 painted with Vantablack. Pricing for the rare 2020 BMW X6 sDriveM50i starts upward of 100,000 including a $995 destination fee. Fully loaded well, the night sky’s the limit.
The H. Moser & Cie. Endeavour Tourbillon Concept Watch in Vantablack is a limited edition of just 50, will cost $75,000 each. So yeah, the chances of buying a can to paint your walls is a long way off, but it’s coming.
The twist to the discovery is that the scientists responsible for creating the new blackest black weren’t even trying to do so in the first place. “We didn’t set out to create a black material!” says Brian Wardle with a self-effacing laugh. “It’s just a discovery.”