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Move over Vantablack, MIT scientists create the blackest material ever, by accident. And then they coated a $2M diamond with it.

I may have said this before, but great news for Art Directors, designers and typographers - we can now get an even blacker turtleneck! I did say I am wearing black until I find something darker, and finally, an MIT scientist team has actually found something darker. Eeeek, I've been using this joke since at least 04* when they discovered the blackest of blacks, and again when Vantablack appeared.

Like the moody perfectionist creative types, scientists seem to have a thing for black. Because light-absorption has other applications, of course. This time, however, the scientists weren't even looking for this, they stumbled on it by happy accident. The material, which is 10 times blacker than anything ever before reported, is made from carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and cuts out over 99.99% of light.
Postdoc Kehang Cui, now a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and his team were experimenting with different ways to create CNTs. These are extremely thin tubes of carbon that are strong and excellent conductors of heat and electricity, very useful stuff, but they ran into a problem. They found that a layer of oxide would coat the aluminium as soon as it was exposed to air, and this layer stopped it from conducting heat and electricity thus making it useless. To remove the oxide layer, Wardle and colleagues used salt to dissolve the layer.

That's when he noticed how dark it got;

“I remember noticing how black it was before growing carbon nanotubes on it, and then after growth, it looked even darker,” Cui recalls. “So I thought I should measure the optical reflectance of the sample."

Now, in collaboration with Brian Wardle, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, and his group they looked into this more, to create something new.

“Our group does not usually focus on optical properties of materials, but this work was going on at the same time as our art-science collaborations with Diemut, so art influenced science in this case,” says Wardle.

Wardle and Cui, who have applied for a patent on the technology, are making the new CNT process freely available to any artist to use for a noncommercial art project. 

Diemut Strebe is an artist-in-residence at the MIT Center for Art, Science, and Technology, and with this black in collaboration with Wardle and Cui, they coated a diamond with it.

The yellow diamond before and after coating with carbon nano-tubes. Image by Diemut Strebe

Not just any diamond. This work of art a 16.78-carat natural yellow diamond from LJ West Diamonds, estimated to be worth $2 million, which the team coated with the new, ultrablack CNT material. The effect is mind-blowing. The gem, normally brilliantly faceted and obviously 3D, now appears as a flat, black void.

The cloak-like material as part of a new exhibit today at the New York Stock Exchange, titled “The Redemption of Vanity.”

“Any object covered with this CNT material loses all its plasticity and appears entirely flat, abbreviated/reduced to a black silhouette. In outright contradiction to this we see that a diamond, while made of the very same element (carbon) performs the most intense reflection of light on earth. Because of the extremely high light absorbtive qualities of the CNTs, any object, in this case a large diamond coated with CNT’s, becomes a kind of black hole absent of shadows,“ explains Strebe. “The unification of extreme opposites in one object and the particular aesthetic features of the CNTs caught my imagination for this art project.” “Strebe’s art-science collaboration caused us to look at the optical properties of our new CNT growth, and we discovered that these particular CNTs are blacker than all other reported materials by an order of magnitude across the visible spectrum”, says Wardle. The MIT team is offering the process for any artist to use. “We do not believe in exclusive ownership of any material or idea for any artwork and have opened our method to any artist,” say Strebe and Wardle. “The project explores material and immaterial value attached to objects and concepts in reference to luxury, society and to art. We are presenting the literal devaluation of a diamond, which is highly symbolic and of high economic value. It presents a challenge to art market mechanisms on the one hand, while expressing at the same time questions of the value of art in a broader way. In this sense it manifests an inquiry into the significance of the value of objects of art and the art market,” says Strebe. “We are honored to present this work at The New York Stock Exchange, which I belie

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