MIT Engineers Have Created the 'Blackest Black' to Ever Black

The coating is on display at the New York Stock Exchange as part of a new exhibit.
Photo: MIT

Move over, Vantablack. MIT engineers have developed a material they they claim is 10 times blacker than any other to date.

In a blog post, MIT describes the material as being made from vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, which are microscopic carbon filaments. The engineers grew the carbon nanotubes on chlorine-etched aluminum foil, which then captured more than 99.995 percent of incoming light in lab testing. For reference, Vantablack, the previous holder of the “blackest black” title, captures 99.965 percent of light.

If you’re in New York, you can actually peep the new material as part of an art exhibit at the New York Stock Exchange. The exhibit, titled The Redemption of Vanity, is a collaboration between MIT artist-in-residence Diemut Strebe and Brian Wardle, MIT’s professor of aeronautics and astronautics. It features a $2 million, 16.78-carat yellow diamond coated in the new ultrablack material. So instead of a sparkly rare diamond, you see a black, diamond-shaped void. Something something commentary on capitalism and greed.

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Art projects aside, ultrablack pigments are also useful in aeronautics. “There are optical and space science applications for very black materials, and of course artists have been interested in black, going back well before the Renaissance,” Wardle said in MIT’s blog. “Our material is 10 times blacker than anything that’s ever been reported, but I think the blackest black is a constantly moving target. 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.”

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MIT’s ultrablack coating is a welcome discovery, especially given the infamous war over Vantablack. Anish Kapoor, the sculptor behind that big silver bean in Chicago, obtained exclusive rights to the material from Vantablack’s creator Surrey NanoSystems. Other artists were put off, as it meant they would not get a chance to use the material in their work. Kapoor was not gracious about it. Last year, Kapoor also used Vantablack to paint an 8-foot hole in the floor of an art museum. Unsurprisingly, someone fell in.

Wardle’s coating, which doesn’t have a spiffy name as of yet, has no such drama surrounding it—and it’s already generated interest from the research community. According to MIT, astrophysicist and Nobel laureate John Mather is currently exploring using the material to create a massive black shade that would shield telescopes from stray light.

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Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.