If you thought “carbon nanotubes” were just some near-future unobtainium used in space elevators, don’t worry, you certainly aren’t alone. In reality, while the technology still has a way to go, carbon nanotube production has already exceeded several thousand tons per year and there are products you can buy today that are using this decidedly futuristic wonder material. Now there’s even one you can put in your pocket.
Created by [Simon], a designer in the UK, this small carbon nanotube array is described as “A simulated black hole” because the surface absorbs 99.9% of the visible light that hits it. Protected by a clear acrylic case, the sample of the material makes a circle that’s so black it gives the impression you’re looking into deep space. Unfortunately, no time-dilating gravitational forces are included at any of level of support in the ongoing Kickstarter campaign; but considering it was 100% funded in just a few hours, it seems like most people are OK with the trade-off.
[Simon] is well aware of the ongoing war between different methods of creating the “Blackest Black”, and he thinks he’s put his money (and by extension, his backer’s) money on the winner. Singularity is using a similar technology to the exclusively-licensed Vantablack, rather than a super-dark paint like “Black 3.0”. In fact he’s so confident that Singularity will appear darker than Black 3.0 that he mentions a head-to-head comparison is currently in the works.
If there’s a downside to the carbon nanotube array used in Singularity, it’s that you can’t actually touch it. [Simon] warns that while the acrylic case is only held together with magnets and can be opened for more careful inspection, actually touching the surface is absolutely not recommended. He says that even dust getting on the material is going to adversely effect its ability to absorb light, so you should really keep it buttoned up as much as possible.
While the Singularity looks like an interesting way to experience near perfect blackness, the concept itself is far from a novelty. A material that can absorb essentially all the light that hits it has important scientific, military, and of course artistic applications; so figuring out how to pull it off has become a pretty big deal.
Vantablack is the darkest pigment ever created, capable of absorbing 99.96% of visible light. If you cover something in Vantablack, it turns into a black hole. No detail is presented, and physical objects become silhouettes. Objects covered in Vantablack are outside the human experience. The mammalian mind cannot comprehend a Vantablack object.
Vantablack is cool, but it’s also expensive. It’s also exclusively licensed by [Anish Kapoor]’s studio for artistic use. Understandably, artists have rebelled, and they’re making their own Vantablack-like pigments. Now, the World’s Blackest Black is on Kickstarter. You can get a 150 ml bottle of Black 3.0, something that’s almost black as Vantablack, for £10.
The pigment for Black 3.0 is called Black Magick, and yes, there was a version 2.0 The problem with the earlier version is that although the pigment was blacker than almost anything else, paint isn’t just pigment. You need binders. The new formulation uses a new acrylic polymer to hold the pigment, and ‘nano-mattifiers’ to make the paint none more matte.
What can you do with the blackest black paint you’ve ever seen? Well, taking pictures of an object covered in the blackest black is a tiny bit dumb. This is something that must be experienced in person. You could paint a car with it, which is something I really want to see. You could follow [Anish Kapoor] around in the shadows. Use it as a calibration target. Who knows what we’ll do with the almost-Vantablack when everyone has it.
Sometimes you need something to be utterly, totally, irredeemably black. Not just a little bit black, not just really really really dark blue, but as black as it is possible to get. It might be to trap light in a camera or a telescope, for artistic purposes, or even to make your warplane a more difficult target for enemy missiles. Either way, we’re here to help, not to judge. So what are your options?
Well, first of all, there’s the much-lauded Vantablack. The name itself is a clue as to its origin – Vertically Aligned Nano Tube Arrays. It works by coating an object with a forest of carbon nanotubes in a complicated vacuum deposition process. When light hits the surface, some of it is absorbed by the nanotubes, and any that is reflected tends to be absorbed by neighbouring nanotubes rather than escaping the surface coating of the object.