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The blackest material ever was recently invented and it was named vanatablack. Surrey Nanosystems, a company in the United Kingdom, created vantablack and it was presented at the recent Farnborough International Air Show. This very black material absorbs 99.96 percent of the light that hits it, which is the highest percent ever recorded.
Nanotechnology was used to create vantablack. Nanotechnology involves objects that are extremely small; that is, on the scale of billionths of a meter. Another key in the development of this material was use of low temperatures during the manufacturing process. The black substance of carbon nanotubes is grown on sheets of aluminum foil. The term vanta used in its name stands for vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays.
The visual property of this substance is that normal viewing does not result in any perception of shape within the material. Visually, no nooks and crannies can be perceived even though they are there in space. The appearance is that of a completely flat, black surface. It is as if one is looking in a deep dark hole or into the abyss. The vantablack material absorbs more than just visible light. It also absorbs electromagnetic radiation that is outside of the visible light range, such as ultraviolet, infrared and microwave radiations.
The applications for vantablack are extensive. It can be used to improve the sensitivity of telescopes so that even the faintest stars can be observed, and it has applications in space activities. Stealth aircraft, weaponry and other military equipment can be made to be “invisible” in that there will be no shape perception because even the smallest amount of incident light will be absorbed.
One of the questions that color vision scientists enjoy discussing is whether black is a color or not. Visual perception is based on light entering the eye through the pupil, then the rods and cones must capture this light. The information from the rods and cones must travel through the optic nerve to the brain and then the brain must process the information to create visual perceptions such as color. By definition, however, black is the absorption of all wavelengths of light by an object and the absence of reflection of light that can reach the eye. According to some color vision scientists, without light reaching the eye there can be no perception and therefore black color perception is not possible. Black cannot be called a color.
In the real world, however, most black objects reflect at least some light. Calling an object black is actually relative. If one gathers a number of black objects and places them near each other, only the one that absorbs the most light will appear as black and the other objects will appear as relatively gray. For example, a piece of black construction paper will look gray next to a piece of black felt because the black felt absorbs more light. When dealing with normal everyday objects, an object will be perceived and called black if it is the one that absorbs the most light.
This new material is the blackest material ever invented and juxtaposed with any other object thought to be black will win hands down as the blackest object. It has been reported that to stare at a vantablack object is an odd experience. None of the objects in our everyday life come close to that level of black and it certainly must evoke some curious thoughts.
By Margaret Lutze