The science behind Vantablack

Materials World magazine
,
1 Jun 2016

What is it?

Vantablack is a substance made from carbon nanotubes that is around 20 nanometres in diameter and 14–50µm long. It is the blackest substance known, absorbing up to 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum.

What does Vantablack mean?

‘Vanta’ stands for vertically aligned nanotube arrays.

Who created it and why?

It was first developed in 2014 by the British company Surrey NanoSystems, with the intention of using it to coat optical components for space and defence.

How does it block out light?

When light hits the surface it enters between the nanotubes and is rapidly absorbed as it bounces from tube to tube. Because of the diameter and the spacing of these nanotubes, light cannot escape. The lack of reflectance creates an almost blackout surface. 

What could it be used for? 

It has previously been used in a diverse range of applications, including high-performance infrared cameras, sensors, scientific instruments and satellite-borne calibration. It is also being used in art by sculptor Anish Kapoor, who was granted exclusive rights in March 2016 to use it for creative purposes. 

If you want to find out more about this material and its applications, visit www.surreynanosystems.com/vantablack