A British company has produced a material so black that it absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of visual light, setting a new world record. The “super black” material is a type of coating made of carbon nanotubes (each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair), developed onto sheets of aluminium foil. It is so dark it confuses the human eye. Shapes and contours are lost in its field of nanotubes. Meet Vantablack, a material so dark it looks like a black hole.
Vantablack conducts heat seven and a half times more effectively than copper and has 10 times the tensile strength of steel. It also has the highest thermal conductivity and lowest mass-volume of any material that can be used in high-emissivity applications.
If it was used to make one of Chanel’s little black dresses, the wearer’s head and limbs might appear to float incorporeally around a dress-shaped hole.
Actual applications are more serious, enabling astronomical cameras, telescopes and infrared scanning systems to function more effectively. Then there are the military uses that the material’s maker, Surrey NanoSystems, is not allowed to discuss.
“We are now scaling up production to meet the requirements of our first customers in the defence and space sectors, and have already delivered our first orders. Our strategy includes both the provision of a sub-contract coating service from our own UK facility, and the formation of technology transfer agreements with various international partners”, says Ben Jensen, Chief Technology Officer at Surrey NanoSystems.
While the prospect of a little black dress with the ultimate optical illusion may seem tempting, it seems Vantablack won’t be available for fashionistas any time soon. The cost remains a secret, which usually equals very very expensive.
Vantablack will be launched at the Farnborough International Air Show this week.