Scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) say that they have created the blackest black ever. Artist Diemut Strebe and MIT scientist Brian Wardle, along with his team, unveiled the material at an exhibition called The Redemption of Vanity at the New York Stock Exchange. The exhibition opened on September 13 and will last at the Stock Exchange through November 25.
Wardle’s team at MIT achieved the feat by accident. The team of engineers had been experimenting with different ways to create carbon nanotubes (CNTs), extremely thin tubes of carbon that are excellent conductors of heat and electricity. When attempting to grow CNTs on aluminum, they tried soaking the aluminum in saltwater before placing it in an oven to avoid an oxide layer forming. They were then able to grow carbon nanotubes on the aluminum at far lower temperatures than was possible before, but the color of the material was unexpected.
Measurements of the optical reflectance of the sample showed the material absorbed over 99.995 percent of incoming light from every angle. That is about 10 times blacker than anything ever before reported. A material known as Vantablack has earned plenty of attention as the world’s blackest material, but it can only absorb 99.96 percent of the light that hits it.
The team’s analysis looked at what the material was able to reflect when subjected to light from every possible angle. Strebe said in a statement, “Any object covered with this CNT material loses all its plasticity and appears entirely flat, abbreviated/reduced to a black silhouette.” A paper describing the team’s research has been published in the journal ACS-Applied Materials and Interfaces.
Understanding the exact mechanisms behind this new ultra-black material still requires more work. The scientists are not sure why the material turned out so black but believe there may be a connection between the color and the way the aluminum is etched. The ultra-dark material has potential uses in optical and space science applications, like helping to reduce glare in telescopes while looking out into space.