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January 17, 2008

'None more black' — Nigel Tufnel in 'This is Spinal Tap'


So said the lead guitarist of the group of his band's black album cover.

He was wrong.

Pulickel M. Ajayan, a professor of engineering at Rice University, has created the darkest material known to man.

Here's Eric Berger's January 14, 2008 Houston Chronicle article about the work.

    A dark discovery — no, really, this stuff is dark

    In the iconic movie This is Spinal Tap, lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel said of his band's black album cover, "It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black."

    He was wrong.

    A scientist at Rice University has created the darkest material known to man, a carpet of carbon nanotubes that reflects only 0.045 percent of all light shined upon it. That's four times darker than the previously darkest known substance, and more than 100 times darker than the paint on a black Corvette.

    "The final numbers, when we measured how dark this material was, were more dramatic than we thought," said Pulickel M. Ajayan [above, left, holding a piece of his material], a professor of engineering at Rice University who led the team that developed the substance.

    The work was published last week in the journal Nano Letters.

    Pure carbon is one of nature's darkest materials, as is clear to anyone who has seen charred organic materials such as wood.

    But to further darken their material the scientists had to make the surface even rougher, to enhance the scattering of light. They struck upon a carpet-like arrangement of nanotubes standing on their ends.

    The nanotubes, so named because they are tiny, are made solely of carbon atoms. Hollow cylinders with thin walls, the nanotubes used by Ajayan measure about one-hundredth of an inch long. They are very narrow, however, as their length is about 300,000 times their width.

    It took more than a year of careful experimentation to determine that such a small fraction of light is reflected by this carpet-like forest of nanotubes, Ajayan said.

    The previous record-holder was an alloy of nickel and phosphorus pitted with tiny craters developed in 2003 by researchers at the National Physical Laboratory in London. The material reflected about 0.16 percent of light shined upon it.

    Ajayan said his team has applied to Guiness World Records. Developing a dark material is an easier way to gain admittance to the book than, say, eating 36 cockroaches in a minute, which Ken Edwards of England did in the year 2001.

    "For me, yes," Ajayan said. "But I can't speak for every person."

    The new material has some potential applications.

    As it absorbs nearly all light, Ajayan said it could be useful in the collection and storage of solar energy.

    Also, as it minimizes the scatter of stray light, it could improve optical instruments such as telescopes.

    But for Ajayan, the aim is purely one of scientific discovery.

    "There's a fundamental joy in such a fascinating study," he said.


Here's a link to the abstract of the paper, published last week in the journal Nano Letters; the abstract itself follows.

    Experimental Observation of an Extremely Dark Material Made By a Low-Density Nanotube Array

    An ideal black material absorbs light perfectly at all angles and over all wavelengths. Here, we show that low-density vertically aligned carbon nanotube arrays can be engineered to have an extremely low index of refraction, as predicted recently by theory [Garcia-Vidal, F. J.; Pitarke, J. M.; Pendry, J. B. Phys. Rev. Lett. 1997, 78, 4289-4292] and, combined with the nanoscale surface roughness of the arrays, can produce a near-perfect optical absorption material. An ultralow diffused reflectance of 1 × 10-7 measured from such arrays is an order-of-magnitude lower compared to commercial low-reflectance standard carbon. The corresponding integrated total reflectance of 0.045% from the nanotube arrays is three times lower than the lowest-ever reported values of optical reflectance from any material, making it the darkest man-made material ever.


[via Adam P. Knave and hellblazer.net]

January 17, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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