Dark Matters

MIT Team “Accidentally” Invents Blackest Material in Existence

Step aside, Vantablack.

9. 13. 19 by Kristin Houser
Victor Tangermann
Image by Victor Tangermann

On Thursday, a team of MIT engineers reported that they’d created a material that absorbs 99.995 percent of light that reaches it — making it even blacker than Surrey NanoSystems’ mind-bending Vantablack, which absorbs 99.965 percent of light.

But perhaps even more remarkable than the light-absorbing capabilities of the new super black material is how the MIT team discovered it: by accident.

In an attempt to boost certain properties of electrically conductive materials, the MIT team removed the oxide layer from aluminum and began growing carbon nanotubes on it.

“I remember noticing how black it was before growing carbon nanotubes on it, and then after growth, it looked even darker,” researcher Kehang Cui told MIT News. “So I thought I should measure the optical reflectance of the sample.”

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That’s when the team discovered that it had created the world’s new blackest material, which it detailed in a study published in the journal ACS-Applied Materials and Interfaces on Thursday.

A fascinating illustration of the new material became public when MIT-affiliated artist Diemut Strebe, who was involved in the substance’s development, used it in an installation titled “The Redemption of Vanity,” in which she coated a $2 million diamond in the ultra-black material — an exploration, she said, of what it meant to make a symbolically expensive object “disappear.”

The MIT researchers almost immediately partnered with artist Diemut Strebe to coat a $2 million diamond in the material as part of an art exhibit that launched at the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.

The MIT team has since offered up the material to any interested artists. But the substance could have many applications beyond the artistic, such as helping astronomers remove unwanted glare from telescopes.

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As black as this material is, though, researcher Brian Wardle doesn’t expect it to hold the title of blackest black forever.

“I think the blackest black is a constantly moving target,” he told MIT News. “Someone will find a blacker material, and eventually we’ll understand all the underlying mechanisms, and will be able to properly engineer the ultimate black.”

Editor’s note 12/3/2020: Updated the description of Deimut Strebe’s role in the diamond installation.

READ MORE: MIT engineers develop “blackest black” material to date [MIT News]

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More on Vantablack: BMW Unveils a Car Coated in Vantablack


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