Gadgets

This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It’s A Big Deal

Vantablack.

No, it's not Marvel's latest fictional wonder substance, but a technological marvel you'll be hearing a lot about over the next few years.

Constructed by a team of engineers in the UK at Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack gains its impossibly black appearance from nanotubes - billions of tiny carbon structures that allow light to enter and bounce about before being absorbed.

Each carbon nanotube has a diameter of less than one-thousandth of a human hair and resembles a tube with walls a couple of atoms thick. Because they are so small, they can be arranged to be really effective at absorbing light and other radiation - with a wealth of possible uses, from coating Lynx cans to buildings. 

For an idea of our dark future, Surrey Nanosystems CTO Ben Jensen told us just how Vantablack is going to change a bunch of industries (much of which we aren't allowed to tell you... yet).

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal

    Military

    There are a number of uses for the 'darkest material in the world' that have got military groups very interested in Vantablack. 

    Super black fabrics is one such possibility - allowing anyone wearing a suit of Vantablack to essentially disappear to the naked eye when there isn't much light about. Seriously, ninjas have nothing on this.

    It can also be used as a 'cloak': by throwing a sheet of the fabric over a large, lumpy object (like a tank?) you'll essentially disguise anything hiding underneath. 

    One less conspiratorial aspect that Vantablack will be useful for is in infrared trackers: the carbon nanotubes can eliminate background "noise" in signals, making sensors far, far more accurate - useful for finding survivors in wreckage, or "bad guys".

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal 1

    Art

    Anish Kapoor, sculptor behind the design of The Orbit at London's Olympic Park, is set to be the first artist to work with Vantablack.

    His creation is currently a closely guarded secret, but try imaging a three-dimensional shape that looks two-dimensional and... why have you gone cross-eyed?

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal 2

    Luxury goods

    Lynx was amongst the first groups to work with Surrey NanoSystems, creating the darkest deodorant can imaginable (that's not Photoshopped, it really does look that black). 

    Because of its unique, striking appearance, a queue of luxury goods designers are set to use Vantablack in a similar manner - coating their high value products in this eye-distorting material. Again, it's hush-hush as to what's being created, but imagine a designer suitcase that gives the appearance you're carrying a black hole.

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal 3

    Thermal control in Buildings

    Because Vantablack is so good at absorbing light, it's also a fantastic conductor of heat. 

    One proposed use is to coat buildings in colder climes that are in need of a little heating boost, gathering the energy of freely available sunlight and reducing the cost of heating the building.

    This will also mean that buildings will gain an odd two-dimensional appearance, creating future skylines that have the appearance of a comic strip. 

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal 4

    Telescopes

    Space looks pretty dark from down here on Earth. But stick a satellite above the atmosphere with a task of looking at stars, and there's all sorts of light smashing about getting in the way. 

    Vantablack will help satellite telescopes block out unwanted light and spot stars with a greater accuracy, possibly helping us in our search for new habitable Earth-like planets.

  • This Is The Darkest Material In The World And It's A Big Deal 5

    Black... everything?

    We were struck by how brilliant it would be if we could cover just about anything in the 'darkest material ever', from cars to phones. However, Ben Jensen told us a very good reason why we won't be seeing 'pimped' cars using Vantablack any time soon.

    "If you were to coat a car in Vantablack it would look surreal as all the 3D features would be lost to the viewer. The only problem would be if the sun came out…. the car would turn into a cooker as high levels of sunlight would be absorbed and converted to heat," Jensen explained "It might be a tad uncomfortable inside. Seriously though, the coating can be damaged by physical contact, so it wouldn’t necessarily be good on cars, even if you could stand the heat!"

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