This Material Is So Dark, You Can't See It

Surrey NanoSystems via CNET
Surrey NanoSystems via CNET / Surrey NanoSystems via CNET

If I were a supervillain, I’d want my name to be Vantablack. Unfortunately, that moniker is already taken, but not by a Hollywood bad guy. No, its owner is even more dark and mysterious: Vantablack is the darkest material ever made.

Created by a British company called Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack absorbs all but 0.035 percent of visible light. It is grown on sheets of aluminum foil and consists of a bunch of microscopic carbon nanotubes so tightly packed together that light particles can’t escape. "Take one of the hairs on your head,” Ben Jensen, the chief technical officer of Surrey NanoSystems, explained to The Guardian. “Split that hair 10,000 times and one of the strands that you take away is the size of the tubes that we grow."

This material is so dark, it removes all texture from the surface to which it is applied. Human eyes don’t really know what to make of it. Here’s how Jensen explains what Vantablack does to crumpled aluminum foil: "You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange."

The visual void Vantablack produces reminds me of the Portable Holes from Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Indeed, Stephen Westland, professor of color science and technology at Leeds University, told The Independent that the material is “almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

So, why create something so dark? Vantablack will be used to help calibrate space cameras and telescopes. According to Jensen, “it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars.” And the military will no doubt want to get its hands on Vantablack for stealth operations, but Surrey NanoSystems is keeping quiet about that. It is also coy about disclosing Vantablack’s price, but says it’s “very expensive.”


For the next four months, Vantablack will be on display in London at the Science Museum.