(This article has been simplified for young children)
Is there anything blacker than black?!
Science is advancing in fast and fun ways, helped by developments in computers, nanotechnology, science and engineering. And what we thought was science fiction is becoming real.
One frontier of science is Nanotechnology. ‘Nano’ comes from the Greek word for ‘dwarf’, and means one-billionth. The science of the very, very tiny!
Nanotechnology is therefore science and technology at the nano-scale (nanometres, nanoseconds, etc). Imagine, there are about 10 million nanometres in a centimetre! Look at it another way – a sheet of newspaper is about 100,000 nanometres thick. REALLY, really tiny.
One recent application of nanotechnology is Vantablack, the world’s darkest material. It is a deep black material that absorbs 99.96% of the light that hits it. It can be used to coat objects, turning them into visually flat, black ‘holes’ without any sense of shape, allowing them to appear almost ‘invisible’.
The Vantablack coating is made up of carbon particles about a nanometre or two in size, which, after being saturated with gas, grow into carbon nanotubes. For each square centimetre of coating, there’s about a billion of these nanotubes.
This allows particles of light to get into the spaces between the nanotubes and be absorbed by them. Just like light falling between the trunks of a vast forest of trees – almost as if the particles of light get lost in between the trees, with very little reflection, making the forest almost invisible.
The UK technology company Surrey NanoSystems that invented it is involved in a range of applications right now, many in deep space. It is of course in the early stages of development, and is not yet ready for exciting applications like painting stealth fighter-jets black to make them invisible. Maybe we will get there soon!
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