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Growing Colors

In 2019, scientists at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) developed the blackest pigment on record - ten times darker than the previous title holder, Vantablack, created by Surrey Nanosystems. Similar to previous materials, MIT grew the pigment using tightly packed carbon nanotubes. What’s a nanotube? Great question. Nanotubes are sheets of carbon atoms rolled into cylindrical tubes. Simple.

But why is it so dark? The unique texture traps 99.995% of light particles, making it appear pitch black. The reason why this particular material is darker than previous examples is not fully known. After all, the pigment wasn’t exactly created on purpose. It was originally developed to help boost the electrical and thermal properties of aluminum - for use in aeronautics. MIT grew the nanotubes on chlorine-etched foil, an already dark material. And, nanotubes convert light into heat, further reducing the pigment’s reflective properties. A combination of these two features might explain why the pigment is so dark.

Scientists have discussed using the material to reduce the glare in cameras and telescopes (basically a big pair of sunglasses for delicate equipment). The image above is from The Redemption of Vanity, a work of art by Diemut Strebe, with help from Brian L. Wardle, Dr. Luiz Acauan, and Dr. Estelle Cohen. The jewel on the right is coated in the new pigment.

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Image from MIT


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