Surrey NanoSystems has "super black" material

Jul 15, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
Credit: Surrey NanoSystems

(Phys.org) —A British company says it has scored a breakthrough in the world's darkest material. Surrey NanoSystems describes its development as not just a black material but super-black. They are calling it Vantablack, and they are singling out its ability to be applied to lightweight, temperature-sensitive structures such as aluminum, absorbing 99.96% of incident radiation; that is, they said, believed to be the highest ever recorded. This coating is mad

e of carbon nanotubes – "each 10,000 times thinner than a human hair," wrote Ian Johnston in The Independent on Sunday. It's not what you see; it's what you don't see. If fact, you see nothing, period. "It is so dark that the human eye cannot understand what it is seeing," wrote Johnston. "Shapes and contours are lost, leaving nothing but an apparent abyss."

The company explains why Vantablack is considered a breakthrough. "The manufacture of `super-black` -based materials has traditionally required high temperatures, preventing their direct application to sensitive electronics or materials with relatively low melting points. This, along with poor adhesion, prevented their application to critical space and air-borne instrumentation. The two year development and test program was completed in December 2013, during which period Surrey NanoSystems successfully transferred its low-temperature manufacturing process from silicon to aluminum structures and pyroelectric sensors. As part of the program, qualification to European Cooperation on Space Standardization (ECSS) standards was also achieved."

Stephen Westland, professor of color science and technology at Leeds University, said in The Independent, "These new materials, they are pretty much as black as we can get, almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

Ryan Whitwam said in Geek.com, "There's demand for something that reflects almost zero light when even a few photons can throw off an experiment."

What are some applications for this material? CNET mentioned its use in electro-optical imaging and target-acquisition systems. "One example of a use for the material is in telescopes to increase the instruments' ability to see very faint stars."

Ben Jensen, the company CTO, detailed what the material could mean in applications. "Vantablack is a major breakthrough by UK industry in the application of nanotechnology to optical instrumentation. For example, it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars, and allows the use of smaller, lighter sources in space-borne black body calibration systems. Its ultra-low reflectance improves the sensitivity of terrestrial, space and air-borne instrumentation."

The company listed other special characteristics: It has virtually undetectable levels of outgassing and particle fallout, eliminating a key source of contamination in sensitive imaging systems. It withstands launch shock, staging and long-term vibration, and is suitable for coating internal components, such as apertures, baffles, cold shields and Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) –type optical sensors.

Explore further: How much of the universe is black holes?

More information: www.surreynanosystems.com/news/19/

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User comments : 28

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Graeme
not rated yet Jul 15, 2014
This could be used in normal cameras too if it is durable and cheap enough.
Mike 864
not rated yet Jul 15, 2014
I would imagine that the Military would also have some applications for it, for example making stealth satellites.
Dr_toad
5 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2014
Making a satellite black doesn't mean it's invisible to radar.
Amoeboid
5 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2014
If you painted your clothes with this material, and stood in front of a background made of this material, you would look like a floating head.
Digi
5 / 5 (3) Jul 15, 2014
I am sure it is in their list of potential uses ;)

If you painted your clothes with this material, and stood in front of a background made of this material, you would look like a floating head.

TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2014
"absorbing 99.96% of incident radiation"

This claim is really deceiving as some people here rightfully but naively think that they are talking of the whole EM spectrum, and so leads to this kind of this kind of comment:
I would imagine that the Military would also have some applications for it, for example making stealth satellites.
When somebody writes an article that withholds some information it is no more scientific journalism but sensationalism. The reality is, the blackness and reflectivity of this product is very low, in a range of the EM spectrum ranging from Far IR to the end of the visible spectrum.http://www.optics...amp;org=
bentodd60
5 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2014
The apparent inability of humans to discern the dimensions of this material has nothing to do with the eye being confused. It's reporting exactly what it's seeing, which is nothing. It's not a trick or an optical illusion. There just aren't photons being reflected from this material. Sensationalist journalists will be the death of me.
grondilu
5 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2014
> For example, it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars

Now I feel bad for the Gaia mission who could have found use for this stuff.
grondilu
1 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2014
Making a satellite black doesn't mean it's invisible to radar.

Are you sure? Radar uses the reflection of radio waves on the target. If this target is black enough, not even radio waves will reflect.
TechnoCreed
5 / 5 (4) Jul 15, 2014

Making a satellite black doesn't mean it's invisible to radar.
Are you sure? Radar uses the reflection of radio waves on the target. If this target is black enough, not even radio waves will reflect.
Yes, and if you would have read my 'very badly written comment', you might have understood why.
Burnerjack
5 / 5 (7) Jul 15, 2014
One obvious application is using to coat thermal solar collector targets. That which is not reflected is absorbed. Greater Absorption should equate to greater efficiency.
bluehigh
5 / 5 (3) Jul 15, 2014
The energy of the impacting photons must go somewhere. Does this radiate in infrared?
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2014
The energy of the impacting photons must go somewhere. Does this radiate in infrared?


Bluehigh, I hope you can put with a long winded response. Radiant heat transfer is one of the things I really like.

The application they are first using is for a pyroelectric sensor. That is a great application for something that has 99.96 absorptivity. Your question is the radiation that might come from the EM that is impacting the black surface. The result is that the amount of radiation off of a black surface is related to T^4th in accordance with laws of radiant transfer. For sensors we usually expect them to be relatively cool so they emit a distribution around the main wavelength for radiant power which will be related by Wien's displacement formula related to T^4.

The power is also related to T^4 by the Planck black body radiation equation.

Continued
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2014
Continued: The black body radiation equation can be found here:

http://en.wikiped...adiation

I could go into the way the sensor works, but I don't think that is your question.

Instead, I think you want to know what happens to the energy of the photons. If you want to know why the material is so effective ask and I will elaborate on that. However, I will just jump to the idea that almost all of the photons are absorbed in the matrix and they are then converted to vibrations in the material (heat). The amount the material heats depends on the amount of incoming energy, thermal conductivity of the nanotubes, and the mass and heat capacity of the substrate. The amount of radiation coming off of the material is dependent on the temperature (as noted above).

So, the amount of EM coming off is going to be related to the material and the substrate and the eventual temperature. Continued
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (6) Jul 16, 2014
Continued: We could design it to emit very little by making it a large mass with high heat capacity and limited EM input. We could design it to get hot and emit more. But the basis of absorption is that it turns into kinetic energy. How that reradiates is dependent on how hot we let it get. We can design around that and keep it cool or we can let it heat.

Burnerjack's suggestion is a good one in that a thermal collector is cooled. That means that you can absorb most of the incoming energy by energy transformation to lattice vibrations and then energy in the thermodynamic fluid of the energy cycle. The reradiation off the system is minimized by the cooling. However, there will be IR losses off of the system that relates back to the T^4.

Let me know what I have not made clear and I will try to expand.
bluehigh
5 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2014
Excellent. Thank you for the comprehensive comments. I see now that the energy could be carried away without much re-radiating in infrared.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2014
Excellent. Thank you for the comprehensive comments. I see now that the energy could be carried away without much re-radiating in infrared.


Just an elaboration. We can control the amount of radiation that comes off by controlling the temperature. If we have a lot of radiation coming in we can afford to let a lot come back by allowing the temperature to go up. For instance in a concentrating a solar collector we can let the temperature go up to a high temperature for the working fluid because the energy density coming in is high. If we are just heating water on a roof we want to keep it as cool as possible because the sunlight is not concentrated (usually you don't have to concentrate for water heating). Thanks for the good question.
Egleton
4.8 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2014
An alternative way of heating Rossi's e-Cat. Solar meets cold fusion.
Dr_toad
5 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2014
I assume you meant that as humor, but no matter.

@thermodynamics: You said a few comments back that the photons absorbed impart vibrations resulting in heat. Could tuning the nanotube length to a particular frequency of incident light allow for amplification via coherent phonon transmission? That would suggest that the stuff could be used as a sensor.

But I ramble. This isn't my expertise, just a thought.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2014
@thermodynamics: You said a few comments back that the photons absorbed impart vibrations resulting in heat. Could tuning the nanotube length to a particular frequency of incident light allow for amplification via coherent phonon transmission? That would suggest that the stuff could be used as a sensor.

But I ramble. This isn't my expertise, just a thought.


Toad: It is not really my area when you ask about phonon transmission. Rather than directly addressing that question I will mention why the absorption is so good. The tubes are arranged on end and the gaps between the tube are long open sections (as are the tubes). Photons come in at some angle to the surface (any angle including perfectly normal to the surface). At any angle the photons either hit the tube and are absorbed or they progress into the surface (since it is like a forest) and the bounce around or are absorbed. As they bounce they go deeper into the forest and are eventually, almost all, are absorbed.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (5) Jul 16, 2014
Continued: Now that you understand how the photons are absorbed, you can see how the location of the absorption is unpredictable for each photon (not just because of quantum mechanics which also makes it unpredictable but also because some bounce and we don't have an exact knowledge of what the "forest" looks like). We use the idea of multiple reflections on an absorbing surface to make things as black as possible. Since the heating takes place at indeterminable locations it would be hard to coordinate them. In that case, it tends to make the vibrations uncoordinated (which is the definition of heat). Having said that, it is a very good idea and I have to say that there may be some surprises in nanotubes we have not thought about. You see me telling people when they ask (or state something) that is nonsense that it is NONSENSE. This is not. It is actually a good question that I wish I knew more about. Tuning size is possible and the results are not something I can predict.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (5) Jul 17, 2014
Pan said (just before I reported him):
The book features nearly all unknown secrets.


OK, I have to admit when I first read this it did warm my mind a bit. In my past I had always associated "unknown" with... Well.... Umm.... Unknown.

That would mean that no one knows it. However, here is Pan promising to tell me that which he doesn't know (because it is unknown). That must mean he is related to Cantdrive, Rygg2, Alche and the rest of their ilk. I can hardly wait to see how much to pay for the book about the subject he doesn't know about...
Dr_toad
5 / 5 (3) Jul 17, 2014
I had a bit of ale on board when I asked about phonons.

"Now that you understand how the photons are absorbed, you can see how the location of the absorption is unpredictable for each photon..."

It would be noise, not phonons.
thermodynamics
5 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2014
I had a bit of ale on board when I asked about phonons.

"Now that you understand how the photons are absorbed, you can see how the location of the absorption is unpredictable for each photon..."

It would be noise, not phonons.


Yes, it would be disordered and would produce heat instead of coordinated phonons. Thanks for pointing out what I missed the first time through.

Let me know if you want to go into any more on this.
gwrede
4 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2014
Out of any PhysOrg article I have ever read, this one has to be the one with the highest comment rating average of all time!!!

Congratulations to PhysOrg!!!
Dr_toad
5 / 5 (2) Jul 19, 2014
Thermo, great fun, and I'd love to talk more. If you're a member at sciforums we'll chat there after I get my credentials squared away.
daqddyo
not rated yet Jul 20, 2014
We all know the disastrous effects that asbestos fibres (avg diameter 40 nm) have on human lung tissue. What safety studies have been done to determine how harmful these nanotube fibres (diameter 8 nm) would be in this new product? Of course the manufacturer will give glowing descriptions of the safety of this substance and tell us that these nanotubes cannot escape from the surface of the product, but I for one anxiously await the independent testing
of any "superblack" device planned for public exposure.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Jul 20, 2014
Thermo, great fun, and I'd love to talk more. If you're a member at sciforums we'll chat there after I get my credentials squared away.

SAW your profile name

I just left you a message on your profile at sciforums...
What safety studies have been done to determine how harmful these nanotube fibres (diameter 8 nm) would be in this new product? Of course the manufacturer will give glowing descriptions of the safety of this substance and tell us that these nanotubes cannot escape from the surface of the product, but I for one anxiously await the independent testing
@daqddyo
interesting point...

It DID take a long time to establish that asbestos was harmful over time though, didn't it? And it still didn't get the product pulled from the market place due to its usefulness

My first THREE sets of bunkers/turnouts had ASBESTOS insulation liners.