None more black . . . clockwise from top left: Vantablack, Orange Is the New Black, Spinal Tap's Smell the Glove and a black hole
Vantablack is the new black. You haven't heard of it? It really is the new black, blacker than all previous blacks known to man, and the Guinness Book of 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 the ends of the sleeves, your legs below the hem, your neck and head - and the rest of you would appear two-dimensional. 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
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% of light (in technical terms, it has a Total Hemispherical Reflectance or THR of 0.035%). The previous world record for black was 0.04%. What makes the latest black particularly exciting is the fact that it can grow at lower temperatures - 400C, compared with the 750C at which
Has Vantablack changed the way Jensen sees ordinary black? "We call this material super black," he says. Touch it and it feels like the metal it's grown upon.
How did they make their discovery? "We were in the research lab getting very frustrated. We raced down to the pub and had a lightbulb moment." It is interesting that even scientists searching for the deepest darkness possible think of their breakthrough as enlightenment. Presumably you need that if you are staring at the abyss every day.
Popular culture likes a new black. The phrase is an example of a "snowclone" and was alleged to have been invented by the US fashion editor
But for now, at least, Vantablack is the new black. It is not quite as catchy as
"This is not a groundbreaking thing," says professor George Stylios at the school of textiles and design at
Jensen, incidentally, is already working on a blacker version of Vantablack. Another new black? It's only a matter of time.
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