Vantablack, the world’s darkest material, is unveiled by UK firm

Scientists produce the darkest ever fabric, but you won't be seeing it on any fashion catwalk

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 8:44pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 8:44pm


Vantablack is the new black. It is also blacker than all previous blacks known to man, and Guinness World Records.

When you look at this new black, you see only a hole. If you were to wear a Little Vantablack Dress, people would see your hands poking out of the ends of the sleeves, your legs below the hem, your neck and head - and the rest of you would appear as two-dimensional blackness.

Total flatness is not the usual ambition of little black dresses, but this new material, which has been developed by British company Surrey NanoSystems, is intended for military and astronautical purposes, not sartorial ones.

The material is made of carbon nanotubes. "It grows very quickly," says Ben Jensen, the company's chief technical officer. "Take one of the hairs on your head. Split that hair 10,000 times and one of the strands that you take away is the size of the tubes that we grow."

What does the material look like when it's growing? "We grow the tubes like a field of carbon grass. The tubes are spaced apart. When a light particle hits the material, it gets between the tubes and bounces around, is absorbed and converted to heat. Light goes in, but it can't get back out."

Very little gets out, at any rate. Carbon nanotubing was discovered as a material in the 1990s. Since then there has been a race towards the blackest black. Every few years, a deeper black is invented.

This new black absorbs all but 0.035 per cent of light. The previous world record for black was 0.04 per cent.

What makes the latest black particularly exciting is the fact that it can grow at lower temperatures - 400 degrees Celsius, compared with the 750 degrees at which Nasa has grown previous deep blacks. This means it can be grown on lighter materials, such as aluminium, increasing its practical applications.

"We call this material super black," Jensen said. Touch it and it feels like the metal it's grown upon.

Vantablack "is not a groundbreaking thing", said professor George Stylios at the school of textiles and design at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. "It's a progression of a group of scientists, of companies that try to manipulate materials to push the boundaries."

For now, Jensen is already working on a blacker version of Vantablack. A newer black? It's only a matter of time.