Carbon Nanotube Blackness Blacker Than Black

A material so black it has a reflective index of just 0.045 percent - three times blacker than the previous record holder? I apologize to readers who kept trying to get me to do this story; I'm slow.


(NIST reflectance standard owned, as my son would say)

In the above picture, you can see the National Institute of Standards and Technology reflectance standard (left), a sample of the new darkest material (center), and a piece of glassy carbon.


(NIST reflectance standard owned, as my son would say)

If you mount the carbon nanotube black material in the center of an integrating sphere (which measures the material's reflectivity), you discover that the material absorbs more than 99.9 percent of incident light.

So, how does it work?

It is composed of carbon nano-tubes, tiny tubes of tightly rolled carbon that are 400 hundred times smaller than the diameter of a strand of hair. The carbon helps absorb some of the light.

These tubes are standing on end, much like a patch of grass. This arrangement traps light in the tiny gaps between the "blades."

The researchers have also made the surface of this carbon nano-tube carpet irregular and rough to cut down on reflectivity.

Science fiction writers have dreamed dreams of the blackest black. In his 1980 novel Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Douglas Adams decided it would make a perfect space ship coating.

It was a ship of classic, simple design, like a flattened salmon, twenty yards long, very clean, very sleek. There was just one remarkable thing about it.

"It's so... black!" said Ford Prefect. "You can hardly make out its shape... light just seems to fall into it!"

The blackness of it was so extreme that it was almost impossible to tell how close you were standing to it.
(Read more about Douglas Adams' Absolute Black)

Update 10-Nov-2011: Here's an early reference to the idea of a "blacker than black" coating for materials; see the black coating from E.E. 'Doc Smith's 1939 novel Gray Lensman. Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for the tip on this item. End update.

If you enjoy true tales of black beyond black, take a look at Femtosecond Laser Pulse Turns Metals Pitch Black; what other sf writers have made use of the idea of absolute black?

Thanks to BajaB for the tip, as well as anonymous readers. Via New material pushes the boundary of blackness and Researchers develop darkest manmade material (press release).

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/21/2008)

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