Imagine an object so black that you could stare right at it and see nothing at all. That object can now exist, thanks to a British nanotechnology company. Surrey Nanosystems has created a new "super black" coating that absorbs 99.96% of light, which is to say, all light the human eye can detect, the company announced last week. The Engineer explains that it can be "applied to flat and three-dimensional structures in precise patterns with sub-micron resolution," and the Independent gives an example: Scientists applied the material, which the company calls "Vantablack," to sheets of aluminum foil. While the foil is visibly crinkled around it, within the area covered by the coating, those crinkles and contours disappear.
If you made a dress out of it "you would lose all features of the dress," Chief Technology Officer Ben Jensen says. "It would just be something black passing through." It would also be a "very expensive" dress, Jensen adds, without disclosing the material's cost. Vantablack is made out of carbon nanotubes 10,000 times thinner than a human hair. It's 10 times stronger than steel, and more than seven times more conductive than copper. Unlike past efforts at such a material, it can be manufactured at low temperatures, allowing it to be directly applied to sensitive electronics without melting them. All of which makes it not just a curiosity, but a material rife with practical uses for things like imaging systems. "For example, it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars," Jensen explains. The firm has started delivering batches to defense and space industry clients. (Click to read about an invention you can smell.)