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Nanotubes Form The Darkest Material Yet Created 324

toxcspdrmn writes "Bad news for Spinal Tap fans. The BBC reports that researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, have produced the darkest known material by manufacturing "forests" of carbon nanotubes. This forms a surface that absorbs or scatters 99.9% of all incidental light."
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Nanotubes Form The Darkest Material Yet Created

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  • by Zymergy ( 803632 ) * on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:10AM (#22077920)
    He will incorporate this new 'blackest' black into Doom 4.
    (and you just thought you saw all possible shades of black and brown in Doom 3!)
    • by Tim99 ( 984437 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:37AM (#22078048)
      For older readers - Hotblack Desiato, Disaster Area, and the totally black ship in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe":

      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 have done it.
      http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=535094 [everything2.com]
      • Older readers? I'm young you insensitive clod!

        Such a pity more young people havent read it.
        There are so many references to the books everywhere.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by rucs_hack ( 784150 )

          Such a pity more young people havent read it.
          There are so many references to the books everywhere.

          Such a pity that so many people think Hitch-Hikers guide is just a book, and don't know about the Radio show from which it came.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by nospam007 ( 722110 )
        They could only produce them dark nanotubes because their nanogenerator goes to 11.
  • Paint (Score:5, Funny)

    by milsoRgen ( 1016505 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:16AM (#22077948) Homepage
    I can't wait to paint my nerd den with this stuff... light be damned!
  • I can't wait to get my fuligin cloak!
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_the_New_Sun/ [wikipedia.org]
  • by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:21AM (#22077976) Journal
    ... can we get a screenshot?
  • by XaXXon ( 202882 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (noxxax)> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:22AM (#22077980) Homepage
    wouldn't it just be less 'mirror-like' and more matte if it scatters light? In order to be black from all angles, it would have to absorb all the energy. ?
    • by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:43AM (#22078082)
      The summary seems to be wrong. No where in the article does it say the material "scatters light". Rather, it absorbs light.
    • by sholden ( 12227 )
      An error in a slashdot summary, it's the end of the world!!!
    • In order to be black from all angles, it would have to absorb all the energy.
      That's what I'm wondering -- if indeed it absorbs all light energy, would it not get awfully hot? I'm thinking that unless you actually have serious cooling behind it (as in a steam solar cell) a panel of this stuff would be a fire hazard to its surroundings.
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 )
        black object gets hot when placed in sunlight.. I've never heard of such a thing.

        • Spare your sarcasm.

          What I'm wondering is how much hotter than a "regularly black" panel one of these would become. There's a difference between being visibly black (which basically means it just reflects an unimpressive but equal amount of all wavelenghts) and actually absorbing all light.
          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by vbraga ( 228124 )
            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_body [wikipedia.org]

            Thermal engineering 101.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jc42 ( 318812 )
            What I'm wondering is how much hotter than a "regularly black" panel one of these would become.

            The wikipedia article others have linked to is a good intro. The brief summary: "Not much." This material would radiate the heat as a "black body". At ambient temperatures (275-300 K), this is in the far infrared, so you can't see it. You might be able to feel it, but the heat would be comparable to what you feel if you hold your hand in sunlight.

            There is real potential for applications in light-gathering gadg
        • I am not sure the black object gets hot; rather, the object converts more electromagnetic radiation into heat--it's not the object that is hot, it is a side-effect of the object being black. What I am trying to say is that it's not the object that is generating the heat, but the blackness of the object... yes, this sounds kind of vague.

          If I was remotely religious I'd be touting that from darkness there comes light. But I am not. So erase that last sentence.
        • by Chrisq ( 894406 )
          You must work for the automotive industry. I was fool enough to buy a black car with black vinyl seats.........
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by protobion ( 870000 )
        Yes but the point is , we wont let the material burn itself and everything around it. The material would start to get hot, but we will couple it to a thermoelectric/sterling etc. engine to generate power from the absorbed energy. The tubes should reach some steady state temperature and we have theoretically much more efficient light-based power source.
      • by XaXXon ( 202882 )
        it can radiate it off as heat. that's fine -- no conservation issues. I should have RTFA, though before asking about scattering..
      • by Eivind ( 15695 )
        How do you figure that ? If you absorb 99.9% of all light, then you are heated 10% more than some normal black material that "only" absorbs 90%. So what ? No big deal. Okay, where the "normal" black material reaches equilibrium with its surroundings at 70 degrees F, this thing may be 75 degrees F, who cares ?

        Being black does not mean it won't radiate. It'll radiate and cool just as well as any other object. (infact nanotubes can be -very- good conductors of heat)

        I'm thinking you failed physics 101.
        • I'm no thermal engineer, so I have no idea of the amount of energy that a "black" and "truly black" body absorbs, or radiates for that matter. If it's just a five or ten degree increase then that's no big deal for sure.

          FYI, I did not take Physics 101, as I'm on the wrong side of the planet for that. I recall no mention of Black Body Radiation in the physics classes I have taken (so thanks for that link, vbraga). See, no need to be offensive.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eivind ( 15695 )
      True. But this is a "forest" of nanotubes standing on end.

      Light that is scattered on impact with the first tube stands a high chance of then ending up hitting a second tube, where it is absorbed. That is the reason this forest-of-nanotubes is blacker than say any other pile of nanotubes.
  • by Dr. Cody ( 554864 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:23AM (#22077984)
    ...if anybody had found a picture of it. I'd see this article a few days ago and couldn't turn up anything.

    Unfortunately, posting on Slashdot provides me with the perspective to see how stupid a question it was.
    • The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of virgins

      I can't see the trees for the forests.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by bar-agent ( 698856 )
      I'd like to see a video. All the time, I read fictional accounts of materials that "glow" black, or look so black they're unreal, like a hole in space. I'm thinking this material might look pretty much like that. So, I want to see how it responds to ambient light as it's tilted around, and what happens when you shine a flashlight on it.

      Still, if even one photon in a hundred escapes, it can't be too black, now can it?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ndogg ( 158021 )
      Did you really expect that an article on the blackest material ever made would be able to shine some light upon the subject?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by localman ( 111171 )
      Actually, here's a good photo of it [news.com.au], comparing it to the previously most black substance. It's neat: I can already imagine them using this someday in camera optics and such.

  • by LaskoVortex ( 1153471 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:37AM (#22078052)
    "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."
  • by laejoh ( 648921 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:38AM (#22078054)

    from 1 to 10 would yield us, what? 11?

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:50AM (#22078118)
    If the media release is accurate, a Mr Hotblack Desiato would like a word with them... his current ship isn't quite black enough.
    • Do I get any points for having walked past Hotblack Desiato, the London Estate Agents (Real Estate to your foreign types) which Adams pinched the name from?
  • Absorbtion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @04:52AM (#22078122)
    If the light is absorbed 99.9%, where does the energy go? Heat? If so, could this lead down the road to new power sources? Super-black nanotube network produces heat to produce steam to turn turbines... (??)
    • Black body radiation (Score:5, Interesting)

      by arrrrg ( 902404 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:22AM (#22078286)
      IANAP but I think by being a great absorber, it becomes a great emitter too: Black body [wikipedia.org]. So it may not actually get much hotter than something less black. I guess it depends on where the equilibrium point is, and I don't have any intuition about that.
      • by Psychotria ( 953670 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:34AM (#22078352)
        I guess the article should really define "light" a bit more tightly. From your link:

        Although Planck's formula predicts that a black body will radiate energy at all frequencies, the formula is only applicable when many photons are being measured. For example, a black body at room temperature (300 K) with one square meter of surface area will emit a photon in the visible range once every thousand years or so, meaning that for most practical purposes, the black body does not emit in the visible range.

        My, possibly incorrect, interpretation (assumption?) of the article was "light" in the broad sense of all electromagnetic radiation. This, however, does not make your link less interesting; in fact, in makes it more interesting. Thank-you.
    • Re:Absorbtion (Score:4, Interesting)

      by blackest_k ( 761565 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:32AM (#22078580) Homepage Journal
      From the BBC article
      "The application will be to things like more efficient solar cells, more efficient solar panels and any application where you need to harvest light," he added.

      There was an earlier article on /. with a related technology essentially printing small antennas on a plastic film which essentially create a high frequency ac voltage from heat and light energy , if the nanotubes are conductive perhaps the two technologies be combined to make some extremely efficient solar panels.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by hey! ( 33014 )
      The answer is yes. Using black materials to turn sunlight into heat is very practical. I'm looking out at my neighbor's solar panels, which are pretty much a glass topped box painted black inside with a network of water pipes to capture the heat.

      However, this is not exactly a breakthrough, because the material, while darker than black paint, is not enough darker to make it worth considering the cost. For the price difference, you'd be better off simply build a bigger collector.
  • "We're here to make coffee metal.
    We're here to make everything metal.
    Blacker than the blackest black times infinity."
  • Ha! So I guess that is what black "holes" are really made of!
  • Where to put it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by xZoomerZx ( 1089699 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:29AM (#22078336)
    Im wondering at the practical applications of this and how much it will have to be hidden or at least above the human zone (from the floor to about 7') I imagine extreme blackness would cause an effect similar to "The Blindspot" of sic-fi space travel. In effect the eye/brain would not 'see' the blackness and pull the visible edges together in an optical illusion.

    Case in point - I was once in a room that had contained a fire. The walls, floor, ceiling, and windows were all coated in a soft black soot that was perfectly uniform and ate all the light. The effect was very disconcerting and disorienting. None of the normal visual cues of highlights, textures, or reflections existed. Only the open door gave a reference point so that you didn't feel like you were floating in a void.

    The article posits several uses, but can you imagine a person clothed in this black in full sunlight? Could we even see them? or a building covered in it? or a car? Sight requires a least some photons to hit the retina. Anyone? I know I sound repetitive, its 0430 and didn't want to lose the train of thought to sleep.

    • by dltaylor ( 7510 )
      The "blindspot" effect may well occur in enclosed spaces. In the open, where there is a plethora of visual references, a human-sized or larger object non-reflective object would be readily apparent because the shape would trigger the "edge-detect" optical neurons. If you were sufficiently close to, and facing, a true-black object, such that it occupied nearly all of your visual space, you might be back to the blindspot.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by entrigant ( 233266 )
      Hmm... a gigantic near absolute black building in the middle of a sunny day... hmmmmm... nope, don't think I'd notice that.
    • Re:Where to put it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:04AM (#22078480)
      Yes, we would. No incoming photons doesn't mean that our brain furiously tries to make our pattern filling work 1000% beyond what it normally does. It would mean a big black spot. Just because a person wearing a suit made out of this would look completely flat doesn't mean he'd be invisible.

      Even if your brain couldn't handle pure blackness, the rods still fire randomly, ensuring that some form if input is always present. You can verify this by closing your eyes in a very dark room - you should see a color that is not black. This color is called eigengrau [wikipedia.org].

      I think this will be of limited value for personal stealth measures - being that dark, you'd stand out even aginst regular dark surfaces. However, as another article pointed out, a stealth plane could profit from being able to absorb radar beams. Research into the absorption of non-visible wavelengths is already underway.
  • But (Score:5, Funny)

    by niceone ( 992278 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:33AM (#22078350) Journal
    How much more is the the Macbook that is this colour going to cost???
  • If Earth's solar constant is 1366 W/m2 [wikipedia.org], and this 'color' absorbs 99.9% of the incoming light's energy (which wavelengths? all of them?), wouldn't this mean that it would be almost trivial to boil water in containers covered with this, and thus power steam turbines? Shouldn't this then be basically the solution to all out energy problems, or is there something i am missing? Losses by black-body radiation, if i understood that problem correctly, depend on the material's temperature, but i'd guess that at 100C
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )

      If Earth's solar constant is 1366 W/m2,


      The "solar constant" is measured "on the outer surface of [the] atmosphere", most certainly NOT at ground level. Down here, you get around 100W/m2, during daylight, in the summer, with no cloud cover, etc.

      Did you really think that our previous "blackest" materials were simply so highly reflective as to make such a scheme impossible? No, they absorb something like 95%+ of light. But with that, you simply need a huge area to get a useful amount of energy.

      • by Nyh ( 55741 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:22AM (#22079062)

        The "solar constant" is measured "on the outer surface of [the] atmosphere", most certainly NOT at ground level. Down here, you get around 100W/m2, during daylight, in the summer, with no cloud cover, etc.

        You are wrong here. The 1366 W/m2 is indeed at the upper atmosphere. Lower in the atmosphere it is less, how much depends on the current state of the atmosphere. About 1000W/m2 is the right value.

        The 100W/m2 is the energy output of a not so good photovoltaic module.

    • by famebait ( 450028 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:37AM (#22078606)
      I was thinking along the same lines.

      But while his material would undoubtedly be very efficient for absorbing heat, it does not represent any revolution in that area: we can already absorb sunlight for heat with reasonably high efficiency with just basically black paint. This invention is better, by many percentage points, but it is still only an incremental step up from what we can already easily get per square meter.

      Also, as always, the economics come into play: it will often be a lot more attractive to use a cheaper and much simpler solution, and spend slightly more surface area to compensate for the lower efficiency.
      Extruded black plastic will probably still be hard to beat in the real world for a while.

      I think it will be much more useful in light sensitive applications.
    • by Nyh ( 55741 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @09:14AM (#22079354)

      If Earth's solar constant is 1366 W/m2, and this 'color' absorbs 99.9% of the incoming light's energy (which wavelengths? all of them?), wouldn't this mean that it would be almost trivial to boil water in containers covered with this, and thus power steam turbines? Shouldn't this then be basically the solution to all out energy problems, or is there something i am missing?

      Well, let us do some math on the trivial boiling of water with black containers.

      Take a container with 1 kg of water. For ease of calculation we will take a 0.1 m x 0.1 m x 0.1 m container.
      Let us assume one side of the container faces the sun. Area is 0.1 x 0.1 = 0.01 m2
      The staring temperature is 20C, boiling temperature is 100C. Delta t is also 80 C. Specific heat of water is about 4200 J/K/kg.
      To make the 1 kg of water boil you need 80 x 4200 = 336 kJ.
      Energy received on the side of the container is 0.01 x 1366 = 13.66 W.
      Time needed to get 336 kJ with this power is 336000/13.66 = 24597 s (=6 hours and 50 min).

      Oops, not so trivial after all...

      If you make a large area (1m2) container containing 1 kg water you need get a container of 1 m x 1 m x 0.001 m. This container would boil water in 336000/1366 = 245 s (about 4 min). Problem with such a container is a large area at the cool side of the container and the specific heat of the container is a lot higher than the specific heat of the water it contains. So you need to design a container with a very low specific heat compared to the specific heat of the water it contains, a large surface area to collect the solar energy and good isolation at the shade side to minimize heat losses. Welcome to the interesting world of designing solar collectors.

      And for the very black material: going from 99% black to 99.9% black gives only (99.9-99)/99 = 0.9% increase of efficiency. The problem of solar collectors is not the black not being black enough. A new blacker black won't revolutionize solar collectors.

  • Finally (Score:3, Funny)

    by Phyrexicaid ( 1176935 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:41AM (#22078368)
    Ninja suits!
  • Stack of razorblades (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @05:43AM (#22078376)
    I always thought it was kinda interesting that a stack of razorblades makes a fair approximation of a blackbody. You can't grow stacks of razorblades on surfaces, natch, but for some applications I imagine you just need a small optical sink and don't want to spend a lot of money. Then again, this could be just trivia more than something that's useful to know.

    (Because of the potential for dangerous reflections, please don't shine lasers into a stack of razors trying to test their reflectivity--unless you know what you're doing and, hopefully, have an appropriate pair of laser goggles.)
  • Over 50 replies and no Dark Matter jokes?

    C'mon, people, are you all still asleep?
    • Over 50 replies and no Dark Matter jokes?

      C'mon, people, are you all still asleep?

      We used them all up about 2 weeks ago when there were 3 stories about dark matter and 2 about black holes. We simply exhausted our allotment early this month... although, as of yesterday, database, middleware, and Java jokes are in.

      Use them while you can, chances are the next round of database jokes will be triggered by Microsoft's purchase of a database company, and we'll burn a lot of good material preferring Access, VB(A,6), and Vista jokes in lieu of straight database jokes. If you don't have any

  • by bipbop ( 1144919 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:17AM (#22078528)
    My soul is as black as the darkest carbon nanotube forest!
  • For a new "blackest black" album.
    Light gets lost in the cover, now that's heavy.
  • by clickety6 ( 141178 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @06:57AM (#22078710)
    Father Ted - Series Three, Episode One

    DOUGAL: Anyway, what else did you order?

    TED: Priest socks. Really black ones.

    DOUGAL: I read somewhere, I think it was in an article about priest socks that priest socks are blacker than any other type of socks.

    TED: That's right Dougal. Sometimes you see lay people wear what look like black socks but if you look closely you'll see they're very, very, very, very, very, very, very dark blue.

    DOUGAL: Actually that's true. I thought my uncle Tommy was wearing black socks but when I looked at them closely they were just very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY, very, very, very dark blue.

    TED: Never buy black socks in a normal shop. They'll shaft you every time!
  • by master_p ( 608214 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @07:10AM (#22078772)
    Where does the energy go?
  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:08AM (#22078994)
    That to pick up news that is happening 3 miles away from my house. From Slashdot hosted far away linking to the BBC even further away. I am sure most of the RPI students don't know about this yet... (being 7:00 in the morning) Colleges should really publicize their work more. It just could help them get those grants they are looking for.
  • by flajann ( 658201 ) <fred,mitchell&gmx,de> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:24AM (#22079076) Homepage Journal
    Imagine being in a room completely covered with these carbon nanotubes. Even with a bright lamp with you, you'd feel as though you're sitting in outer space. Worse even, since you'd see no stars. It would be quite stunning, and could make a cool exhibit at some science museum.

    I wonder what it would cost to do? It would be wicked cool to do this to a bedroom!!!!

  • by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @08:53AM (#22079196)
    Um, although this thing is by some measure "three times blacker", that's no big deal, in an energy absorption sense.

    It just means instead of using cheap carbon black, 99.6% blac, you use expensive and fragile nanotubes, 99.9% black.

    Not a significant increase in energy absorption, and not economical either.

  • Superblack? Hardly. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nerdposeur ( 910128 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @10:17AM (#22079852) Journal

    I color sampled the image of this stuff, and its RGB value is #071108. I can make a blacker square in Paint.net and print it out.

    Call me back when you reach less than #000000 and I'll be impressed.

  • by Doctor Faustus ( 127273 ) <Slashdot AT WilliamCleveland DOT Org> on Thursday January 17, 2008 @11:46AM (#22080896) Homepage
    I always thought "I'm only wearing black until they make something darker" was just a joke. So when can I buy clothes made out of it?
  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @12:38PM (#22081612)
    Barack Obama could use this material to finally put an end to the criticism that he isn't "black enough". With this stuff, he could probably put even Shaft to shame.

    *shuts his mouth*
  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday January 17, 2008 @01:28PM (#22082340)
    Is this what they use for dark fiber to run the Intertubes over?

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"