The color Vantablack has recently taken the world by storm after artist Anish Kapoor announced that he has acquired exclusive rights to the use of this color. According to sources and scientists, it is the blackest substance known to man and absorbs as much as 99.6% of light.
Kapoor's trippy application of Vantablack
As questions swirl around about the ethical implications of someone owning such a material, I wanted to dig a little bit more into the details of this fascinating pigment discovery.
First off: how is Vantablack made and why is it ?
As you probably know, pigments originally came from a large variety of organic sources. For example, blue often derives from lapis rock while the oldest source of bright green pigment is malachite, which is found in copper ore deposits.
Lapis lazuli rock, an organic pigment source.
Vantablack on the other hand is grown in labs and is actually made from carbon nanotubes—yes, tubes. This "forest" of highly condensed tubes, grown on the surface of aluminum, is what causes the dark pigment as well as helping to explain exactly why it is so dark.
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So why IS Vantablack so incredibly dark?
In order to understand exactly how dark this material is, we have to go back to this idea of carbon nanotubes. Growing carbon nanotubes is not a new technology, and have been proposed for potential use in situations like cleaning oil spills and boosting solar energy storage due to its amazing structural makeup.
A visualization of the material; to give you an idea of scale, this material is almost 50,000 times smaller than a human hair.
The material is 200 times stronger than steel, 1000 times more conductive than copper, and almost half the density of aluminum (an important point that we'll revisit). According to the inventors of Vantablack, Surrey Nanosystems, when light interacts with this incredibly low density material it "is rapidly absorbed as it 'bounces' from tube to tube and simply cannot escape as the tubes are so long in relation to their diameter and the space between them. The near total lack of reflectance creates an almost perfect black surface."
Why in the world was Vantablack made?
To put it simply, Vantablack was originally made for NASA—not only for its color, but also the structural integrity of the pigment. The pigment was applied to telescope components to absorb unwanted light from entering a telescope's incredibly sensitive light detectors, but also proved "to withstand launch shock, staging and long-term vibration, making it suitable for coating internal components."
Vantablack is seen on the far left on a component for the International Space Station.
So given all of this information, what do you guys think of this phenomenon going on right now surrounding this material: should someone be able to gain exclusive rights to a color with this much potential? What are some other uses you see for a pigment like this in the world?
Also anyone who knows about this material and has more information to contribute, we'd love to hear in the comments below.
Header Image Credit: NASAblck-Crcl#1, 2014, artwork and picture by artist Frederik De Wilde