How carbon nanotubes built this bizarre ultra-blue material

Imagine that you let a flashlight shine on a black surface and see nothing. This happened to me in June outside a small coastal town in the UK. I was at Surrey NanoSystems, the company that makes the black material I was surprised about. It is called Vantablack and it is one of the darkest fabrics on earth.


Vantablack is made of carbon nanotubes, small carbon cylinders with walls as thin as one atom. These structures absorb any light that hits the surface by trapping the photons until they are almost completely absorbed. This makes it confusing to flatten 3D objects as flat, empty black spots. Without reflection to guide us, it just looks like a hole in space.

It is not just a salon trick. Carbon nanotubes have real applications outside of Vantablack. They can also help us to strengthen sports equipment and to follow stars. Nanotubing has been touted since the discovery as a wonder material, thanks to a high thermal and electrical conductivity in combination with a high mechanical strength. But much of that world-changing potential has still not been realized. In the meantime, producing nanotubes has led to happy accidents, such as discovering one of the blackest materials on earth.

So while waiting for the broader promise of carbon nanotubes to change the world, watch the video above to explore Vantablack's bewildering illusions.