Vantablack is a material developed by Surrey NanoSystems in the United Kingdom and is the darkest substance known, absorbing up to 99.965% of radiation in the visible spectrum.
Vantablack is composed of a forest of vertical tubes "grown" on a substrate using a modified chemical vapor deposition process (CVD). When light strikes Vantablack, instead of bouncing off from it, it becomes trapped and is continually deflected amongst the tubes, eventually becoming absorbed and dissipating into heat.
Vantablack was an improvement over similar substances developed at the time. Vantablack absorbs 99.965% of visible light and can be created at 400 °C (752 °F). NASA had previously developed a similar substance that was grown at 750 °C (1,380 °F), so it required materials to be more heat resistant than Vantablack.
The outgassing and particle fallout levels of Vantablack are low. The high levels in similar substances in the past had limited their commercial utility. Vantablack also has greater resistance to mechanical vibration, and has greater thermal stability.
Early development was carried out at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK, the term "Vanta" was coined sometime later. Vertically aligned nanotube arrays are sold by several firms, including NanoLab, Santa Barbara Infrared and others.
Being the blackest material, this substance has many potential applications, including preventing stray light from entering telescopes, and improving the performance of infrared cameras both on Earth and in space. Ben Jensen, Chief Technology Officer, Surrey NanoSystems, has explained: "For example, it reduces stray light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars... Its ultra-low reflectance improves the sensitivity of terrestrial, space and air-borne instrumentation."
Vantablack may also increase the absorption of heat in materials used in concentrated solar power technology, as well as military applications such as thermal camouflage. Its emissivity and scalability support a wide range of applications.
In addition to directly growing aligned carbon nanotubes, Vantablack is made into two sprayable paints with randomly-oriented nanotubes, Vantablack S-VIS and Vantablack S-IR with better infrared absorption than the former. These paints require a special license, a temperature of 100–280 °C, and vacuum post-processing. Surrey NanoSystems also markets a line of non-nanotube sprayable paints known as Vantablack VBx that are even easier to apply.
Vantablack S-VIS, a sprayable paint that uses randomly-aligned carbon nanotubes and only has high absorption in the visible light band, has been exclusively licensed to Anish Kapoor's studio for artistic use. This has caused outrage among some other artists, including Christian Furr and Stuart Semple. In retaliation, Semple banned Kapoor from buying the strong shade of pink that Semple had developed. He later stated that the move was itself like performance art and that he did not anticipate the amount of attention it received. In December 2016, Kapoor posted an Instagram post of his middle finger dipped in Semple's pink. Semple later barred Kapoor from buying other products of his, including one sold as Black 2.0, which has similar qualities to Vantablack VBx, despite being acrylic.
Nanolab, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based carbon nanotube manufacturer, partnered with Boston artist Jason Chase to release a nanotube-based black paint called Singularity Black. During the first showing of the colour, Chase, alluding to Vantablack, stated that "its possibilities have been stunted by not being available to experiment with," and Singularity Black's release was important to create access.
Artreport.com contributor Jazia Hammoudi opined that the controversy had been manufactured by the media, while the author of an article in Wired magazine suggested that the controversy between the artists and its online response was a spontaneous piece of collective performance art in itself. The manufacturer claims that Vantablack is subject to export controls by the UK, and due to its physical requirements and thermal characteristics, the original Vantablack is not practical for use in many types of art.
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Even when you bend or crumple the Vantablack, the material — or rather, the dark nothingness created by the material — [still] looks completely flat