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Today we're talking about the blackest material ever created!

Hosted by: Michael Aranda

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[SciShow Intro plays]

Michael: What if you could see the complete absence of light? The darker something looks, the more light it’s absorbing, and the less it’s reflecting back at your eyes.

So a black hole, which absorbs all light, is the darkest thing possible. Odds are you’ll never see a black hole in person -- the nearest one is thousands of light-years away, and there’s that unfortunate danger of being spaghetti-ed to death. But if you really want to know what it looks like when something absorbs all light, a new material called Vantablack is pretty close to complete and total darkness.

And this stuff is freaky-looking. Back in 2012, the British company Surrey NanoSystems started developing Vantablack, a coating that’s made to absorb as much light as possible. The first version of Vantablack, released in 2014, absorbed 99.

965% of the visible light that hit it. Then, in March of this year, the company announced that they’d created a new version of Vantablack, called Vantablack 2, which absorbs so much light they can’t even measure how much it’s absorbing. With either version of Vantablack, so little light gets reflected that your eyes can’t figure out what they’re looking at.

Compare that to a black chalkboard, which is pretty dark. But it reflects about 7% of the visible light that hits it, so you can still see its natural texture. Same goes for fresh asphalt,which reflects about 4% of the visible light hits it.

That’s why you can see all those bumps and cracks. An object is coated with Vantablack, on the other hand, reflects so little light that all of its surface details vanish. Even crumpled-up aluminum foil looks completely flat when it’s coated with Vantablack.

So how did scientists make this stuff? The “Vanta” in Vantablack is an acronym for “vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays,” which makes sense, since the material is made up of hollow carbon nanotubes. The company hasn’t released the exact details of how they grow this nanotube forest, but it involves a specially-designed chamber and heat lamps that raise the temperature to above 430 degrees Celsius. Each carbon nanotube, or CNT, is 10,000 times thinner than a human hair -- so small that photons, the tiny particles that make up light, can’t get inside the tubes.

But more than 99 percent of Vantablack isn’t made up of nanotubes -- it’s actually free space. So light goes between the tubes, where it gets trapped and turned into heat -- in other words, it’s absorbed. And a material that absorbs almost all light has all kinds of real-world applications.

Take telescopes, for example. Stray light can bounce off of the inside of a telescope and end up in the eyepiece or focuser, which can affect the contrast and ruin the view. So the insides of telescopes are coated with very black paint -- which helps, but still does reflect some of the light that hits it.

In 2011, NASA created a material called super-black, also made of CNTs, to absorb light better than regular paint. Super-black, which is grown at temperatures above 750 degrees, absorbs 99. 5% of the visible and ultraviolet light that hits it, and is still being tested as a coating that could be used in space.

But Vantablack absorbs slightly more light than super-black, and since it can be grown at a lower temperature, it’s useful for coating materials that wouldn’t be able to withstand 750-degree heat. Vantablack is also incredibly strong, in the sense that it can resist the vibration and shock of a rocket launch -- so it can be used as a coating for things sent up to space. So Vantablack is both weird-looking and useful.

But if you’re itching to apply Vantablack to your latest art project, you may be out of luck. Vantablack does have a spray-on form, but it can only be applied by a specialist. The coating has to be built up very precisely, then go through a bunch of chemical processes at temperatures between 100 and 300 degrees.

If it’s not applied in just the right way, the materials in the spray won’t bind together and the coating won’t work properly. And anyway, a British sculptor paid Surrey NanoSystems for exclusive rights to use the color artistically. On the fashion side of things, research is being done to see if Vantablack could be used in fabrics.

Anything coated by the material looks two-dimensional, so a little black dress made of Vantablack would make the part of your body it covered look like flat, blank emptiness. I don’t know about you, but 16-year-old me would be really excited about this! Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow, which was brought to you by our patrons on Patreon. If you want to help support this show, just go to And don’t forget to go to and subscribe!.