back to article US boffins create darkest material ever

US researchers announced yesterday they'd concocted the darkest material on the planet - a carbon nanotube substance so black it absorbs more than 99.9 per cent of light, Reuters reports. In fact, the stuff's so unrelentingly black it's "30 times darker than a carbon substance used by the US National Institute of Standards and …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Coat a diamond with it...

    ...and you have the heart of a banking executive...

  2. Pete mcQuail
    Paris Hilton


    a sphere made of this stuff could be interesting, especially when left out in the sun.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    New black

    I thought brown was the new black! Or is it orange that's the new pink?

    Fashion is sooooo confusing.

    PH icon because she'd know whether you can wear ultra-black after Memorial Day or whatever.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    No picture?

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Stealth ?

    As in night camo suits ? Just wondering, but if this is really that black, then being a nice gaping black hole under the moon is not exactly what I would call stealthy.

    On the other hand, it could be a very good coating for weapons - keep moonshine or streetlight from gleaming on the barrels.

  6. Marky W

    But do they make a decent cup of tea?

    Nanotubes, nanotubes, is there anything these clever wee beasties can't do? I bet they even taste good, in a charcoaly kind of way.


  7. Gianni Straniero

    "Blacker than a black cat in a coal cellar"

    Or, as The Stranger in The Big Lebowski would have it, "darker than a black steer's tookus on a moonless prairie night".

  8. Anonymous John

    The really, really, really, black jacket please.

  9. Ash

    Duncan Hills Coffee?

    "Blacker than the blackest black, times infinity."

    What would an object with a total reflective index of 0 look like? Would you be able to see it? (Following on from JonB...)

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Civilian Uses

    How about covering a Lamborghini with it? What would that much material cost, and how much would some rich mid-life crisis victim (Jezza Clarkson) pay for "the blackest supercar ... in the world"? (You can just hear him saying it, can't you?) If they go on to show it absorbs radar frequencies too, it's both practical and fashionable.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    But is it blacker

    than the outlook of the markets at the moment

    or the PMs mood when he realises his strength in the economy has been somewhat under mined recently

  12. Test Man

    Re: Duncan Hills Coffee?

    Yes, cos it's black, not invisible.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    "What would an object with a total reflective index of 0 look like? Would you be able to see it?"

    That depends on how hot it was. It would have a black body radiation curve so if you warmed it up it would glow like anything else.

    If it was at room temperature, I guess it would just look like a two-dimensional black shape unless you donned your infrared glasses.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Priest's Socks

    Is it as black as priest's socks though? I read somewhere, i think it was in an article about priest's socks that priest's socks are blacker than any other type of socks.

  15. Gareth


    Didn't Blackadder and Baldrick also manage inadvertently to produce a new substance they named "black" while trying to turn coal into gold?

  16. andy gibson

    Priest's Socks

    It was in Father Ted.

  17. Karl Lattimer

    Anyone remember...

    Archimedes Plutonium had a theory about the blackest of black boxes... Now we have something to test his craziness with :P

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The goths now have their work cut out...

    Wear a T-shirt made from this stuff and they'll look like candy ravers in comparison.

  19. Bill Fresher


    Would be freaky to sit in a room made from the stuff and switch on a light... would feel like floating in a void.

  20. Andrew Taylor

    Priests' socks

    'Twas in an episode of Father Ted

  21. Rich Silver badge

    Forget Spinal Tap....

    HotBlack Desiato has more money - he might be interested in this stuff for his next stunt ship!

  22. Sir Runcible Spoon
    Black Helicopters


    I think you'll find that Percy invested some 'Green'.

    Also, I think HotBlack Desiato beat Clarkson to the coolest blackest vehicle award. (See Douglas Adams)

    Black Helicopter icon - what else.

  23. Martin Lee


    Baldrick made a nugget of the purest green, IIRC.

    Also, the stealth implications are more for aircraft and ships than for people. British camouflage has very little black, mainly greens and browns (for temperate climes at least). If the aircraft absorbs all the radiation and doesn't reflect any back, there's no way of picking it up on radar, much like the current stealth technology, where a big evil aircraft shows up about the size of a large bird.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    @Gareth - One of the funniest Blackadders out there...(IMO anyways)

    Lord Percy Percy: I've done it, my Lord! I've discovered how to turn things into gold! Pure gold!

    Blackadder: You have? Show me!

    Lord Percy Percy: [takes lid off melting pot, and Baldrick, Percy and Blackadder are bathed in a green glow] Behold!

    Blackadder: Percy... it's green.

    Lord Percy Percy: Yes, my Lord!

    Blackadder: Now, look, Percy, I don't mean to be pedantic or anything, but the color of gold... is gold. That's why it's called gold. What YOU have discovered, if it has a name, is some... Green.

    Lord Percy Percy: [removes lump of Green from pot] Oh, Edmund... can it be true? That I hold here, in my mortal hand, a nugget of purest Green?

    Blackadder: Yes indeed, Percy, except that it's not really a nugget but more of a splat.

    Lord Percy: Yes, my Lord. A splat today, but tomorrow, who knows, or dares to dream...

  25. Anonymous Coward


    re: Coat A Diamond with it..

    No. Banking executives have no heart.

    re: Alchemy

    No. What Lord Percy invented was 'purest green'.

    re: The goths now have their work cut out...

    No. They would have them too.

    re: Void

    No. It would 'look' like you were floating in a void - it would 'feel' like you were sitting on a floor.

    Um, can anyone see where I put my coat?..

  26. Dr Jeep

    Yes, it's very dark, isn't it? It's, er, almost... black

    Yes. Black. Black. Black! Like the clouds of death that follow me into the Forest of Doom! And hide in the wardrobe of darkness! Black!

    Black! Black!

    Black! Black!

    Black! Listen! Listen! Do you hear? The moon is weeping in a secret room! They tap at my window, with tiny poles!

    Oh! Oh! The monks are troubled and full of woe! I'm a fly! Trapped in a jar of shadows!

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Priest's socks

    Father Ted: That's right, Dougal. You see, ordinary shops sell what look like black socks, but if you look closely, you'll see that they're very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Surprised no one has done this yet...

    It's like, how much more black could this be? and the answer is none. None more black.

  29. jubtastic1

    Re: Void

    Coating the inside of a small box with this stuff would create a cool 'bottomless pit in a box' effect as well.

    also "It's the weird colour scheme that freaks me. Every time you try to operate one of these weird black controls, which are labeled in black on a black background, a small black light lights up black to let you know you've done it. Hey, what is this, some kind of galactic hyper-hearse?"

  30. Rich Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    @One of the funniest Blackadders out there

    Indeed - "Money" is definitely the funniest Blackadder episode ever!

    ...bring on the flames.... I'm ready for you :-)

  31. Anton Channing

    The future

    The future is dark! The future is black!

    This'd be great for an anarchist black flag... >:)

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bloody hell ...

    you of all people should know not to use the word 'boffin'. I would expect it from a Medieval-History-graduate-turned-lazy-journo (or possibly from Paxman), but not from you. Stop it at once.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Photo here!

    It was a challenge sneaking in for the pic, and I could only get a glimpse of a tiny spot, but here it is:-


  34. Stu


    I've located a JPG of it for you -

    I did it myself in mspaint!


    Anyway, I'd like to know how big they've managed to make this wonder material. I'm thinking maybe as big as two nano-metres! Kind of like how they make wigs?

  35. Tim

    Carbon Nanotubes

    Carbon Nanotubes are great...but being more expensive than gold and depositing them on surfaces in such a manner is generally a lab experiment rather than a production method I don't think this will be seen by the public for a long time.

    Good news is since CNTs are so resistant to deformation the coating will last far longer than paint.

    (P.S: Marky W, I'm sure they would taste terrible. Definately not worth the cancer you'd get from their carcinogenic properties)

  36. Fancy
    Thumb Up

    @Dr Jeep


    Fast Show at its best.

    They wait for me in the forest....

  37. Stephen Lilgert


    Ah, but is it blacker than "Peckinpah's Perfect Puddings - None Blacker" from The Goodies.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Very dark, isn't it

    "Yes. Black. Black. Black! Like the clouds of death that follow me into the Forest of Doom! And hide in the wardrobe of darkness! Black!"

    Where are you sleeping tonight mother? FATHER'S GRAVE???

    That guy was ace :-)

  39. Anonymous Coward


    Now, all we need is a way to make a portable hole... and I could carry a black hole in my pocket. Is this like that whole tea/no tea thing since a hole is the absence of matter? Could I fake it with a sphere of the stuff?

  40. Luther Blissett
    Jobs Halo


    will be soooo in lurv with these guys.

  41. Louis Cowan


    Maybe I'm not understanding this, but I thought that the only reason we could visibally see things was due to the light reflecting off of it? Therefore, if something were to absorb all light, wouldn't we just... not... see it? Trying to figure this out is making my brain itch, inside

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why carcinogenic?

    Is all carbon, and by extension, all things made from carbon carcinogenic then?

    Must remember not to breathe out and infect my co-workers.

  43. Dan
    Thumb Up

    @Louis Cowan

    You are right, you would not see much light coming back from an object coated with this, but you would see light coming back from whatever was around it so you would easily be able to see the outline. As someone mentioned above, it would look two-dimensional because ALL you can see is the outline so a sphere would look like a circle for example. A person's face coated in this and standing in profile would make a perfect living silhouette (not practical of course but interesting to think about). That said, the reflectivity of even this substance is 1/2000th or so, so I believe human eyes could still make out some detail under bright light (say sunlight) but indoors probably not.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    When it comes to objects that are black, what you actually see, is the absence of any reflected light i.e. you only see it, because other surrounding objects are reflecting light towards your eye - so anything that isn't, will still be a clearly defined shape. Or at least that's what my memory of school/college physics tells me.

  45. Aaron

    Spinal Tap

    On a scale of 1 to 10 of blackness, it's an 11.

  46. Bounty

    Black No 1

    I'd like a floormat made of this, that way people walking up to my house would think twice. On a nice bright sunny day, there is this 2 dimensional looking black.... no texture, no reflection... no contrast... just black.

  47. Jeff Wojciechowski

    Darker than...

    Hillary Clinton's heart?

    Sorry couldn't resist :o)

  48. Red Bren
    Thumb Up

    @Goth t-shirts

    I've got a black t-shirt with black writing that states "I'm only wearing black until they invent something darker!"

    Looks like my wish is coming true...

  49. Simon
    Thumb Up

    Re: but..but

    This is absolutly true Louis.

    Therefore what you would be seeing when you looked at it would be the absence of any reflected light (this is why black is black), so you would still (rather easily) percieve it visually, if not actually see it in the most literal scientific sense of the word.

    In essence what you would see is a patch of black amongst everything else around it.

    It would certainly look (near as dammit) 2D, due to this, you certainly would not be able to see any surface detail unless in profile (so in a way these details are invisible).

    Does this help?

  50. Anonymous Coward

    Frightening thought!!!!

    If this absorbs so much light, could it in theory soak up all the light in the universe, thus rendering us an eternity in darkness, except for the dim glow of 0.045% of the remaining light.

  51. Eddie

    To all the HHGTTG freaks..


    From the radio series - the original, and best, HHGTTG

    Sorry, but sometimes points have to be made.

    I wonder what would happen if you mixed this with the whitest substance in the world - would they cancel out, or just form a dull, boring, middle-of-the-road grey, and be the new black and white

  52. Joey


    This is all nonsense. There is no such thing as black. Black requires a total absence of light - minus infinity Lux. Even black holes come in different shades!

  53. Eddie Edwards

    Can you see it?

    Without wishing to be *too* pedantic, black is presumably the "albedo" of this material, but it may reflect light specularly like a black mirror ... so you can see your face ... in both sides. This would make it possible to discern features, even though it's none ... none more black.

    I'd probably feel a lot worse about people not considering the material's full BRDF if I wasn't under such heavy sedation.

  54. Anonymous Coward

    Black is black

    ooh-ooh oooooh

    I want my baby back

    And grey is grey

    Since she went away...

    ... with my coat.

  55. Bill Karwin

    The Researchers

    Predictably, the first thing the researchers did with the new substance was to spill it on their white lab coats.

  56. vincent himpe

    i'm only wearing black until they make something darker

    time for the t-shirt manufacturers to jump on this...

  57. DV Henkel-Wallace
    Thumb Up


    Gene Wolfe fans will remember Severian's cloak of Fulgin -- a colour "darker than black".

  58. ian
    Black Helicopters

    Does this mean?

    Does this mean that Lucas Electric have lost the title "Prince of Darkness" to the Yanks? See

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Can you see it?

    >it may reflect light specularly like a black mirror

    "All the light that goes in is basically absorbed. It is almost pushing the limit of how much light can be absorbed into one material."

    I guess not.

  60. Nick

    Re: Why carcinogenic

    AC wrote:

    "Is all carbon, and by extension, all things made from carbon carcinogenic then?"

    Bare Carbon nanotubes are more reactive than most other forms of carbon. They are also of a similar size to asbestos fibres and can be absorbed deep in the lungs.

    This has lead to concern from some scientists about whether there could toxicity issues.

    Tests are ongoing to determine if they're toxic and whether coating the nanotubes has any effect.

  61. Anonymous Coward

    Hot Black

    "It's the wild colour scheme that freaks me," said Zaphod whose love affair with this ship had lasted almost three minutes into the flight, "Every time you try to operate one of these weird black controls that are labelled in black on a black background, a little black light lights up black to let you know you've done it. What is this? Some kind of galactic hyperhearse?"

  62. Herby

    Now we need this for Automotive paint

    Hopefully it will absorb radar, but even if it didn't, when they take a picture for exceeding the limit, all they will see is a black blob with no details. What fun! Now if they can get light to bend around it somehow. Wonderful cloaking devices these things.

    Ah, but to dream.

  63. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge


    I'm going to paint holes in the sidewalk.

  64. Charlie van Becelaere


    At last I know from what wompoms are made - clearly they are composed of carbon nanotubes. To quote the original, "there is nothing that a wampon cannot do."

    Gaudeamus wompom!

  65. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Is all carbon, and by extension, all things made from carbon carcinogenic then?"

    Is not all about elements. Mollecular structure is the key and defines material properties. Diamonds are also made of carbon, but no all carbon-based materials are the hardest natural material in the universe.

  66. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Blackest Supercar

    If you actually used a Lamborghini coated in this stuff, it would very soon just look like a dirty black Lamborghini wouldn't it? How do these nanotubes hold up against the average car-wash I wonder?

  67. Steven Knox


    But remember that after proving the non-existence of God, Man proved that black is white, so this is the whitest stuff ever, too!

    Of course, the downside is, Ajayan's bundling this stuff with his record smallest brush, so it takes a lifetime to apply...

    DNA icon? oh, this will do -- he was a genius.

  68. PunkTiger

    Bright black?

    I wonder if it hurts your eyes to look at it.

    If you had a 6-inch square of this carbon nanotube material on a brightly-lit table and looked at it, would your brain want to register it as a six-inch square void; making you want to look deeper into it in the hopes of seeing stars (much like 2001's Monolith)?

    Just for a larf, I'm waiting for the stuff that will suck some of the ambient light around it so it "glows" black.

  69. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    Wheres all that light energy gone.

    Is it going to be turned into heat?

  70. Paul

    Gatso counter measures

    Yep, finally a solution to all those speeding tickets!

    But might be hard to find your car at Heathrow when returning on a night flight...

  71. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    "I'd like a floormat made of this, that way people walking up to my house would think twice. On a nice bright sunny day, there is this 2 dimensional looking black.... no texture, no reflection... no contrast... just black."

    Easier still:

    Put "Welcome Follower" on your mat, and a sign saying "Press Bell for Cult Leader"

    PH is my Cult Leader

  72. Joe Stalin

    @Priest's Socks

    That's the sort of thing that wackypedia would pick up on and get all wrong and then set it in stone.

  73. Mitch Russell

    Terry Pratchett said it best

    Darker than the inside of a cat.

  74. J
    Paris Hilton


    "Trying to figure this out is making my brain itch, inside"

    OK, here's what you gotta do. Stick your finger up your nose, completely, and scratch it! We don't accept returns.

    "i'm only wearing black until they make something darker"

    Google it, and you'll find a few places that sell something like that -- although I haven't seen any that has black lettering... :-) One stupid store even sells it in different colours. I guess they did not get the joke...

    "How do these nanotubes hold up against the average car-wash I wonder?"

    I would guess that the owner of such a car wouldn't go to an average car-wash, but have top less babes do the service at his own mansion, manually...

    Paris because she can scratch her brain with her finger and would be a passable car washer.

  75. Adam White

    Needs a namin' Stil

    So we can say to the NIST "X is the new black!"

  76. Nexox Enigma

    @Terry Pratchett said it best

    Gah I read all the way through the comments to check if I could mention that first, but you've got it barely before me!

    And yes, that was the best way to say dark ever. The only problem with Pratchett is that I have to continuously pause his audio books so that I can have a laugh at things like that and not miss anything...

  77. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Change of wardrobe

    I used to tell people "I only wear black becasue hey havent made a darker colour"

    Now i'm gonna have to buy new clothes. Bastards!

  78. Tom
    Jobs Halo

    BLACK Turtleneck.

    The stuff was actually developed by Apple for use in Mr. Jobs' MacWorld apparel next year.

    It will also be used to finally and complete resolve all "negative black issues" with the iPhone/iTouch products.

    How dark is it? It is almost, but not quite, as dark as the lifeless gap between synapses in the average fanboy’s frontal lobe.

  79. Aubry Thonon

    The colour already has got a name:


    @Mitch Russell: Can't believe you quoted Terry Pratchett without mentioning this!

  80. Rebecca Putman
    Black Helicopters


    Come up with the Predator's light-bending "invisibility shield" and *then* I'll be impressed!

  81. Jon Tocker


    "But might be hard to find your car at Heathrow when returning on a night flight..."

    Nah, just look for a funny, almost car-shaped (depending of your angle of approach) hole in the universe.

    A black "cat suit" sticks out like a dog's nuts even at night time as there is usually some ambient light around (only times I've experienced true, total darkness was some kilometre or so into a cave system and inside a commercial photographic darkroom and in those conditions you are invisible even if dressed in the whitest stuff you can find) this stuff would make an even bigger contrast at night as even a cat suit reflects ambient light to a degree.

    FWIW, dark greys, blues, browns and greens make better night-time camouflage, especially if mixed so they break up the shape of a human body (say 2-tone brown and green jacket and dark blue pants) - they can easily get lost in the jumble of "light" and shadow at night... far better than a mono-colour obviously humanoid shape...

    Anyway, I now want a complete outfit made of this substance - no more going through my wardrobe frantically looking for pants, shirt and jacket that are all the same shade of "black".

    Anyone else think this stuff would be great for Death's robes in the next movie adaptation of a Terry Pratchett novel?

  82. Adrian Esdaile

    What about the physics?

    If it absorbs 99.7% of visible light (presumably some infrared and ultraviolet too) it's going to get pretty hot, pretty quickly isn't it?

    It should start to glow pretty bright in IR at least, somewhat negating stealth properties and making goths even more sweaty-smelly than usual. (I'm in Australia - goths in 35C summer heat don't smell very nice)

    I guess with some major heatsinking it could work, but that really negates the stealth. Sounds like a useful material for solar panels / heatsinks, but not a lot else.

    PS - there was a shoe ad here that had a goth in a shoestore holding up a boot saying 'got any blacker?' I guess the answer is 'yes'. Or 'none'

  83. Big Pete
    Black Helicopters

    Or as Eric Olthwaite would say...

    Black Pudding is very black today mother.

    Icon was chosen because... well you know

  84. Anonymous Coward

    Black day for science then.....


  85. Quirkafleeg

    Re: What about the physics?

    A 2 thousand billion ton heatsink? Would be good for anybody going flare-riding…

  86. popper

    is it good for advanced cameras?

    these are tubes right? so can you get or make a photo cell that fits the end.

    if so wouldnt these things make the best possible digital cameras and yet be super light for deployment in something like an interstella array?

    im assuming if it works, its going to be better than the current super expensive mirrors up there now...

  87. Sam


    So, if you sat in a room painted with this stuff and it WAS injurious to your health, you could expect to hear a voice close to your ear saying; DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?

    The cloak and scythe, thanks.

  88. Mr Larrington
    Black Helicopters

    Big Pete...

    ...has it right. Eric Olthwaite's mum's black pudding has this stuff well beaten - it were so black, even the white bits were black.

  89. Zarniwoop

    RE: Void

    ... you might get eaten by a grue.

  90. Jon

    Ultra black

    In order to 'see' this, all you do is take a good long run at a wall, with your head down. The colour you see flashing before your eyes just before you die, is that black. - with apologies to Einsturzunde Neubauten and Terry Pratchett (and yes my German is not up to scratch)....

  91. Neil Johnstone

    ...But according to Milton...

    "His dark materials to create more Worlds,"

    Which means that Philip Pullman would never be able to even find his coat.

  92. BitTwister


    > What would an object with a total reflective index of 0 look like? Would you be able to see it?

    No, but you'd probably notice where it wasn't visible...

  93. Peter Mellor
    Paris Hilton

    Miscellaneous bits of black

    A few random points, relevant to some of the earlier comments:

    Current stealth technology depends mainly on the geometry of the aircraft: the surfaces are so angled that hardly any of them reflect back any part of a radar beam. Hence the weird non-aerodynamic shape of stealth fighters and bombers, and the need to have a computer to fly them, since they won't glide.

    The radar signature of the average stealth aircraft is the size of an eagle's eye, not the whole eagle (a selling point strongly pushed by the Lockheed Skunkworks during development).

    Lockheed nicked the basic idea from a technical paper published by a Soviet scientist who did the maths back in the 1950s (or early on, anyway) before computers were adequate to the job of keeping such a thing airborne.

    If you change the geometry, you lose your invisibility. During the first Gulf War, a stealth pilot reported that his bomb bay jammed open, whereupon he was lit up like a Christmas tree and saw a radar-guided missile homing in on him. Fortunately, his bomb bay doors unjammed in the nick of time, and the missile careered off (muttering "Where'd he go?", presumably). Ultra-black paint would avoid the geometry problem, but you would then be faced with keeping it clean, since muck would clog the pores on the paint and make it reflective.

    Regarding seeing a non-reflective object as a hole in the background: that is why stealth ships were not developed. The concept was tried, but there is significant radar reflection from waves at sea, and a stealth ship shows up nicely as a ship-shaped black hole in the radar background.

    Furry cars were tried back in the 1970s (not sure of the precise date). The intention was novelty, not invisibility. They were covered with a special paint that used electrostatic charge to raise "hairs" on the surface after being sprayed on, giving a matt finish. The effect was disappointing. A car body is designed so that it reflects attractive highlights. Remove the reflection, and the result is just dull. Add to that the fact that the "hairs" wore off in patches. I saw one once, and it looked like a mangy beetle. (In fact, it was a Beetle.) Furry cars were a seven-day wonder. So much for civilian artistic uses.

    Whoever said it would be good for the anarchist flag is forgetting that said flag is black and red. If you want pure black flags or shirts, join a slightly different party.

    Paris Hilton since she looks better sprayed gold than matt black all over.

  94. The Prevaricator

    getting my coat already...

    awaits a label on this new stuff that says "also available in black"...

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