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Researchers Develop 'Blackest Black' Accidentally

Friday, September 27, 2019

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The running for the world’s blackest black was recently upped a notch when researchers based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology created a new blackest black accidentally, according to the school.

The material, made of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (CNTs), is currently on display as a coating applied over a $2 million, 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond.

Vantablack History

In 2014, Surrey NanoSystems (Newhaven, United Kingdom) developed what it had termed the "blackest black," named Vantablack, which stands for, “Vertically Aligned Nanotube Array black,” and is described as a free-space coating consisting of a “forest”' of aligned and equally spaced, high aspect-ratio CNTs.

Originally, the coating design was intended for use on satellites and Stealth jets, while NanoSystems’ suggested applications range from solar energy and spectroscopy to passive climate controls and visual spaces in architecture.

However, a few years after the development in February 2016, Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor won exclusive rights to the coating, becoming the only artist allowed to use the color.

Prior to the end of the year, California infrared instrumentation company Santa Barbara Infrared announced that it too had reached an agreement with Surrey NanoSystems for exclusive use in blackbody calibration sources. SBIR is reported to have sole rights to the use of Vantablack S-VIS—which is slightly less black than the original coating, but more versatile—in its field.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The material, made of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes (CNTs), is currently on display as a coating applied over a $2 million, 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond.

As a response to Kapoor’s deal with NanoSystems in being the sole artist to use Vantablack, another British artist, Stuart Semple, revealed the “world’s pinkest pink” in December 2016, with usage rights available to everyone, except Kapoor.

A little over a year later, Semple announced another anti-Kapoor coating, a cherry-scented Vantablack dig. Although Semple never made any quantifiable claims about his version of Vantablack, known as “Black V1.0 Beta,” the coating was described to be “the world’s mattest, flattest, blackest art material.”

War continued to wage between the artists and in July 2017, Semple reportedly banned Kapoor from using his color-changing paints, Phaze and Shift, in addition to previously being banned from several of Semple's product lines.

By February of this year, the latest installment of the blackest black paint was revealed by Semple. Reported to absorb 98.99% of visible light, Black 3.0—also described as “a black hole in a bottle” by Semple—is another black matte paint, also banned from Kapoor.

Late last month, German automobile and motorcycle manufacturer BMW unveiled a special edition Vantablack-coated BMW X6.                                                                      

World’s New Blackest Black

Structurally, the CNTs look like a forest of small trees. The material itself, which can capture 99.995% of incoming light, was grown on chlorine-etched aluminum foil.

“There are optical and space science applications for very black materials, and of course, artists have been interested in black, going back well before the Renaissance,” said Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT.

“Our material is 10 times blacker than anything that’s ever been reported, but I think the blackest black is a constantly moving target. Someone will find a blacker material, and eventually we’ll understand all the underlying mechanisms, and will be able to properly engineer the ultimate black.”

The research team didn’t set out to create a new world’s blackest material: At the time, they were working with ways to grow CNTs on electrically conducting materials like aluminum, in a bid to better the aluminum’s thermal and electrical properties. Research co-author, a former MIT postdoc Kehang Cui, who is now a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, faced an issue with a consistently present layer of oxide that coated aluminum exposed to air. The layer acted as an insulator, inhibiting electricity and heat.

The research group was using products like baking soda and detergent to grow carbon nanotubes at the time. Chloride ions were found to work at the aluminum’s surface, ridding the metal of the oxide layer. Soak aluminum in saltwater and you get rid of the oxide layer. After putting the foil in a oxygen-free environment, Cui put the material in an oven, which is part of the group’s method to grow CNTs, known as chemical vapor deposition. Both thermal and electrical properties improved, but the resulting color was a surprise.

Cui noted that the material reflected 10 times less light than other superblack materials, including Vantablack.

Other Uses

“Optical instruments like cameras and telescopes have to get rid of unwanted glare, so you can see what you want to see,” said astrophysicist John Mather.

“Would you like to see an Earth orbiting another star? We need something very black. … And this black has to be tough to withstand a rocket launch. Old versions were fragile forests of fur, but these are more like pot scrubbers—built to take abuse."

The exhibit displaying the black material was part of a new exhibit at the New York Stock Exchange, titled “The Redemption of Vanity.” The artwork itself was conceived by artist Diemut Strebe, in residence at the MIT Center for Art, Science and Technology, in collaboration with Wardle, and his group.

The research was published in ACS-Applied Materials and Interfaces.


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Coating Materials; Coatings Technology; NA; North America; Project Management; Research and development

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