11 Interesting Facts About Vantablack, One Of The Darkest Materials

Vantablack is a fascinating material created by British company Surrey NanoSystems. It is one of the darkest known substances that can absorb as much as 99.965% of visible light (if light falls perpendicular to the material’s surface).

Although the word VANTABLACK sounds like a Marvel character, it is actually an acronym for Vertically Aligned NanoTube Arrays Black.

Despite its unique properties and several useful functions, it is not as popular as other synthesized materials such as geopolymers and polysiloxanes. Below, we have listed a few interesting facts about Vantablack that will give you an in-depth view of the material’s development, behavior, and applications.

1. Vantablack Is Not A Color

Colors are the characteristics of human visual perception. When light falls on an object, its surface reflects some colors while absorbing all the others. We perceive only the reflected colors.

Vantablack is not a color but a material. It is made of an array of tiny, hollow carbon nanotubes, where each nanotube is about 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. A surface area of 1 cm square contains about 1 billion nanotubes.

When light falls on these nanotubes, it gets absorbed and a very small portion of light reaches our eye. Thus, Vantablack is actually the ‘absence of color’.

2. Where Does The Color Go?

A chemical vapor deposition method is used to create Vantablack, which involves growing a ‘forest’ of vertical tubes on a substrate. When light falls on this material, it gets trapped and is continuously deflected amongst the nanotubes. Eventually, the light gets absorbed and dissipated into heat.

3. Creating Vantablack

Many similar color-absorbing materials were developed in the early 2010s. However, this one is particularly exciting because of the fact that it can be created at 400°C.

NASA has grown previous deep blacks at 750°C, which required substances to be more heat resistant than Vantablack, limiting their practical applications.

4. Thermally Stable Material

The particle fallout and outgassing levels (release of matter that was trapped in the material) of Vantablack are very low compared to similar substances developed in the early 2010s.

Vantablack also features greater thermal stability and higher resistance to mechanical vibration. The material is insoluble in water and has a density of 2.5 mg/cm3. It has a melting point of more than 3,000°C.

5. It Doesn’t Feel Like A Warm Velvet

Although the material absorbs up to 99.965% of incident light and has a soft, velvety look, it does not translate to physical sensation. Vantablack feels like a smooth surface to touch.

6. Susceptible to Damage

The vertically aligned nanotubes are extremely long compared to their diameter. They stay upright under normal conditions, but if you apply heavy pressure they can break easily. Therefore, Vantablack cannot be applied to unprotected surfaces. It would lose its magic with just one swipe of a hand.

Although it’s sensitive to touch, it can withstand other forces such as vibration and shock. This is because carbon nanotubes have almost no mass. No mass means no force during acceleration. Thus, Vantablack could be an ideal substance for objects that endure bumpy rides, such as a space launch.

7. Vantablack Isn’t the World’s Darkest Material

In 2019, researchers at MIT came up with a ‘blackest black‘ substance that is approximately 10 times darker than the Vantablack. It absorbs more than 99.995% of the incident light, which makes it the darkest material on record.

8. Commercial Production

Initially, this material was developed by the National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom. While Surrey NanoSystems Limited has trademarked the name Vantablack, vertically aligned nanotube arrays are sold by different companies, including Barbara Infrared and NanoLab.

The first Vantablack product was delivered in 2014, and the production was scaled up in 2015 to meet the requirements of buyers in defense and space sectors.

9. Three Version of Vantablack

Along with developing aligned carbon tubes, Vantablack is also made into three different sprayable paints:

Vantablack S-VIS: uses randomly-aligned carbon nanotubes to absorb visible light band.

Vantablack S-IR: uses randomly-aligned carbon nanotubes and has better infrared absorption.

Vantablack VBx: are non-nanotube sprayable paints that are much simpler to apply than the former.

A 3D face coated with Vantablack | Surrey NanoSystems 

10. Applications

Being one of the darkest substances ever synthesized, it has various potential applications, ranging from enhancing the performance of space-based infrared cameras to suppressing stray light from entering telescopes.

Space Technology: Vantablack coatings are used for black body calibration of infrared camera systems, and to prevent stray light in optical systems. These coatings are effective over the ultraviolet to near-millimeter (THz) spectral range.

Optics and Lens Systems: Vantablack S-VIS can be used in modern lens assemblies. The coating significantly reduces the over-exposure, veiling flare, and ghosting that arises due to stray light. This could enable rendering of higher contrast, higher-quality pictures that utilize the full dynamic range of the sensor.

Automotive: Vantablack coating can be applied to automotive optical sensors and display. This would improve system reliability even in poor lighting conditions.

The deep black coating on glare shields or camera housings virtually eliminates the sensor binding, removing glare and pixel washout, leading to more accurate and safer systems. It can also be applied to LiDAR return optics to absorb all incident light and improve the overall daylight system performance.

BMW X6 with Vantablack paint 

In September 2019, BMW revealed an X6 concept with Vantablack paint. Although the non-reflective paint would certainly distinguish the SUV from the crowded field of competitors, the company has no plan for producing the color on X6 production models.

Nowadays, this hypnotizing black color is also being utilized by artists and designers to adorn objects and contrive intriguing optical illusions. In fact, if you see this color on a 3D object such as crinkled foil, the coated side looks like a dark 2D (flat) surface.

Vantablack grown on tinfoil | Surrey NanoSystems 

11. Not Easy To Purchase

Vantablack production is a complicated process: it is currently developed in the Surrey NanoSystems lap using complex machines. The overall manufacturing process (patented) takes almost 2 days.

Read: Black Gold: A New Material That Can Perform Artificial Photosynthesis

So you can’t simply buy a bucket of Vantablack and start painting your walls. It costs more than gold and diamond. However, if you need it for your research project, you can provide the necessary information to the company.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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