Hello darkness my old friend: say “hello” to Vantablack

Image by AJC1 via Flickr

Up close and personal with a carbon nanotube (AJC1 via Flickr)

Step aside orange, you are no longer the new black. ‘Vantablack’ is the word on the lips of scientists around the globe. The new material made to enhance telescopes and spacecraft instruments is the darkest ever made by man. 

Things that look dark are absorbing light, and things that look bright reflect light back into your eyes. British company Surrey Nanosystems have created a material that absorbs nearly 100% of visible light (99.965% to be exact), meaning it is the closest thing that humans can get to looking into a black hole!

What is Vantablack?
‘Vanta’ stands for Vertically Aligned Nanotube Array. Vantablack is not a pigment,  paint or fabric, but a material that’s made by ‘growing’ millions of teeny tiny carbon tubes (called nanotubes). Each tubule is 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. The tubes ‘grow’ on metal under super hot lamps that can reach higher than 430ºC.

Why is it so dark?
Each nanotube can be 700 – 2500 times longer than they are wide. Particles of light can’t fit inside the tubes, but they become trapped in the tiny spaces in between them, bouncing around until they are absorbed and turned into heat. Surrey Nanosystems liken this to being in a forest with trees that are 3km high. It would be extremely unlikely for any light to reach the floor where you’re standing.

Vantablack uses
Material that absorbs great amounts of light are very useful in telescopes, where stray light can affect the focus of the lens. Vantablack is being used to coat the insides of telescopes to create even clearer images into outer space.
Vantablack is also very strong, so it can be used to coat things that are sent into space.

There has been hints towards possible future applications such as stealth aircraft and military uses, high performance cameras & infrared scanners, and potentially even solar panels.

Men in (Vanta)black?
Research is being done to see whether Vantablack can be made into a fabric, but sorry to burst any bubbles, you’re not going to be seeing any Vantablack dresses on the red carpet any time soon. Partly because Vantablack is not sold commercially, but mostly because it can only be grown by Surrey Nanosystems using their specialised equipment.

Vantablack will be used for lining telescopes, in satellite, and in high performance cameras and sensors where it’s important to eliminate any stray light.


While it may not be quite as revolutionary as Professor Calvin Q Calculus’ Portable Hole, Vantablack opens a world of opportunities for further artistic, aesthetic and scientific development, and only time will tell what’s in store for Surrey Nanosystems next.


6 Responses to “Hello darkness my old friend: say “hello” to Vantablack”

  1. eciarrocchi says:

    It would be crazy, and slightly terrifying I think haha!
    Credit goes to Surrey Nanosystems for the analogy I must admit, it is a wonderful image though.
    Thank you so much for reading and commenting James, I’m glad you enjoyed my post. 🙂

  2. James Ha says:

    What could be more Melbournian than an outfit made entirely of Vantablack? Loved the tree canopy analogy – you did a great job of explaining some very cool chemistry!

  3. eciarrocchi says:

    Thanks for reading Elizabeth! You’re right, the artist’s name is Anish Kapoor, he has done some really interesting and famous stuff (“The Bean” in Chicago and “Orbit Tower” in London are two I find really cool).
    I’m not sure if he’s done anything with Vantablack yet, but I’m definitely keen to see what he comes up with!

  4. Elizabeth Newton says:

    I think one artist got rights to use this material? And I am very jealous; imagine the cool art effects you could make! I would love to get one of those anechoic rooms that have a negative decibel level and paint it in this stuff. Then sit in it of course.

  5. Sabrina Lewis says:

    Nanotechnology is fascinating – it’s interesting to see how the field is expanding.

  6. yaul says:

    Love the title and lead! That and the light read kept me interested throughout the article.