One artist given exclusive rights to the blackest black on Earth

Vantablack, officially the blackest material in the world, has been making headlines recently after it was revealed that exclusive rights for its use have been given to just one artist.

The company that created Vantablack, Surrey Nanosystems, have confirmed that British sculptor Anish Kapoor is the only artist that is allowed to use the material. But what is Vantablack, and why are people so keen to use it?

Vantablack (the Vanta comes from Vertically Aligned Nanotube Arrays) is officially the blackest material in Earth. It absorbs around 99.96% of the light that strikes it. The material is made of carbon nanotubes, essentially microscopic rolled single sheets of graphite. When light enters these tiny tubes it’s almost impossible for it to reflect back out; the rays are reflected internally and absorbed.

Vantablack has a number of practical applications, especially in astronomy. Because the material absorbs light so effectively it could be used to prevent unwanted light from reaching camera sensors in space telescopes, allowing us to see even fainter objects than before.

Anish Kapoor, however, is more interested in the effect it has on people viewing his artwork. The human brain cannot comprehend such a black material, as it has never experienced such blackness. Vantablack is so black that three dimensional objects appear totally flat.

Vantablack is currently on display at the Science Museum (until June).


There are a number of websites with some interesting articles, images and videos about Vantablack:

  • The Science Museum website has an excellent video clip from the BBC One Show. It includes footage of the two bronze busts (one coated with Vantablack) that are on display at the Science Museum:
  • News website Digg has a short page about Vantablack that includes links to some excellent Youtube videos that demonstrate just how black it is:
  • There are news articles about Vantablack and the controversy around Kapoor’s exclusive use of the material in a number of newspapers, for example

Vantablack is an engaging context for teaching aspects of the Physics curriculum. For example;

  • How do we see objects? Why do objects have colour? Why do black objects appear black? (reflection and absorption of different wavelengths).
  • What kind of surfaces are good absorbers of light and other electromagnetic radiation? What about emitters?
  • What is black body radiation? Are there any objects that we can treat as a perfect black body? What uses might one have?
  • What are carbon nanotubes? How are they made? Carbon nanotubes are examples of fullerenes. What other uses do fullerenes have?

If you’re interested in bringing this kind of Cutting Edge Science into the classroom, why not sign up to an RCUK Cutting Edge Science course? The National Science Learning Network, in partnership with Research Councils UK, offer a number of exciting Cutting Edge Science courses designed to help bring Cutting Edge Science into your day to day classroom practice, including courses on related topics such as Nanotechnology and New Materials.

All CPD which is part of the Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom programme qualifies for a bursary of up to £180 per day. Click here for further details:


Subject(s)Physics, Chemistry, Engineering, Science
Age7-11, 11-14, 14-16, 16-19
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