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.
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.
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.
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.”
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