Turns out “no more black” can still get blacker.
Engineers at MIT have fabricated a new material that is reportedly ten times blacker than the blackest known material currently known. How was it made? Why none other than via carbon nanotubes.
Jet black, is probably not sufficient enough to describe how “black” this thing really is. As measured by the researchers, the material is capable of absorbing 99.995 percent of all light coming at any angle. It looks almost cartoonishly two-dimensional, because all of the creases and crumples that would otherwise provide visual features of its surface is completely unseen.
The only other material known to have this bizarre property is Vantablack, a material developed by United Kingdom-based Surrey NanoSystems. Unlike this recent invention, however, Vantablack is “only” capable of absorbing 99.96 percent of light that hits it. Calculated directly, this means their “MIT black” is technically ten times blacker than the blackest known substance.
The most interesting part of this groundbreaking announcement, is that the researchers never really intended to create the material with its properties in the first place. Originally, the team was experimenting with ways to grow carbon nanotubes on relatively good conductor materials, such as aluminum, with the primary of making them conduct heat and electricity even better. But before they could even attempt to grow carbon nanotubes on it, the aluminum material kept forming a layer of oxide when exposed to air.
This becomes a problem because this layer acts as an insulator, therefore hindering their ultimate objective of improved conductivity. The solution that they finally come up with is to treat the aluminum material in sodium chloride (salt) to remove the oxide layer. With the oxide layer removed, they then proceeded to transfer it within an oxygen-free environment, where carbon nanotubes were allowed to grow on it via chemical vapor deposition.
As expected, the carbon nanotubes did improve the overall conductivity of the aluminum material. But then it was discovered that it was also black, and had the properties described earlier.
Vantablack is capable of achieving its light-absorbing effect due to how light just continually diffuses inside its structure. The mechanism of the “MIT black” is not yet perfectly understood at the moment, but it is suspected that it works more or less the same way. After all, both are made with vertically-aligned carbon nanotube arrays, only one is currently commercially viable, while the other exists as a lab experiment.
Of course, due to it being directly better than Vantablack at what it does, there should be a good number of commercial and scientific institutions that would express interest in the technical use of this invention very soon. No specific organizations as of yet, but we’d venture a guess that the space industry would most likely be the first to deliver their bid.