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When the world's darkest material made headlines in 2014, pundits predicted it would be used to turn military jets invisible, revolutionise our telescopes, and enable new trends in blacker-than-black haute couture, reported abc.net.au
Vantablack, invented by UK technology company Surrey NanoSystems, is a deep black material that absorbs 99.96 per cent of the light that hits it.
It can be used to coat 3D objects, turning them into visually flat, black 'holes' without any sense of shape.
But from much-hyped beginnings, is Vantablack actually out there in the real world three years after it was first revealed?
According to Surrey NanoSystems chief technical officer, Ben Jensen, the answer is yes.
He says the company is involved in a range of applications right now and more are on the horizon — though none involve painting stealth jets black.
Creating the Vantablack coating starts with "catalyst particles" no bigger than a nanometre or two in diameter, which, after being saturated with gas, grow into carbon nanotubes.
For each square centimetre of coating, there's about a billion of these nanotubes.
The structure of evenly spaced nanotubes — not too far apart and not too dense, either — allows particles of light to get into the spaces between the tubes and be absorbed by them like light falling between the trunks of a vast forest of trees. The fraction of light the coating does reflect comes from light particles that hit the very tops of the nanotubes.
By itself, Mr Jensen says the coating looks rather unremarkable.
"If you see it on a flat surface on its own, with no other black material to reference it against, it just looks like a black velvet surface," he said.
But when other black surfaces sit side-by-side with it, they look grey. And when it's applied to 3D objects, they almost vanish into a shapeless, two-dimensional silhouette.
"If you see it on a 3D object, like crinkled foil, the coated side still looks like a black two-dimensional flat surface. It's only when you turn it around and you realise that it's got a lot of dimensionality, that you grasp how different it is," Mr Jensen said.
Because it's made of delicate carbon nanotubes that are more than 99 per cent empty space, Vantablack can't be touched without damaging the effect of the coating.
But if it's placed where it can't be disturbed — like the inside of an instrument used in space — it'll act as if it's a black hole, absorbing any light that hits it.
Because of its light-absorption qualities, Vantablack can improve upon existing technologies used in space to prevent unwanted, reflected light from interfering with instruments like star trackers and telescopes.
Mr Jensen said the coating, used in the satellite's star tracker, improves the satellite's ability to monitor its position relative to the stars by absorbing stray light that enters its sensors and would otherwise affect the instrument's accuracy.
Vantablack is also set to be used in infared sensors, after it was acquired by a US infrared instrumentation manufacturer.
Read more at abc.net.au
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