From Dreams to Reality: The Cloak of Invisibility

Given that it’s Monday, I knew I was going to need something to get me through this day. And I think I found it. Today I discovered what my little five-year-old self always hoped for: magic is real.

All of the cool kids out there know the premise behind invisibility cloaks. Utilized through myth and folklore, but highly popularized through the Harry Potter series, the Cloak of Invisibility lets anyone (primarily HP himself, and before that, JP [James Potter for all you Harry Potter neophytes out there]) that wears it gain the ability to be invisible. But I learned today that this so-called cloak may no longer be relevant to purely the wizarding world. Thank you, science. Or rather, thank you, Brits.

British researchers have released, what they have dubbed as the “blackest” material ever created. Surrey Nanosystems has been working on Vantablack, a material so dark that it absorbs all but 0.035% of light. From the description given by the company, it is akin to a “black hole” (and no, not that kind, you dirty bird). Essentially, if you were to wear a suit made of this stuff, others would be able to discern your hands poking out from your face, and maybe your shoes, but everything in between would look two dimensional. Something new for all those wanting to let their freak flags fly even higher, know what I’m sayin’?

But because the material is so dark, our eyes cannot accurately perceive movements, folds, and even dimensions within the material. But wait, that’s not all!

Vantablack also has other properties that put it far and above other natural elements. For instance, it conducts heat seven and a half times more successfully than copper and is ten times stronger than steel. Maybe the next Iron Man suit should be made out of this stuff.

So what was the research and effort that went into this? British researchers utilized carbon nanotubes to do the trick. These nanotubes are 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair, and it is this thinness that stops light from penetrating the material. These carbon nanotubes have been grown on pieces of aluminum foil.

But if you think this is just another project we can tackle with things found in your kitchen cabinets (here’s looking at you, do-it-yourselfers), then think again. With a goal of using this nanotechnology in optical instrumentation, Vantablack will be launched at the Farnborough International Airshow later this week. And further development is being made to use this material for astronomical cameras, telescopes, and scanning systems that use infrared light.

Since the 1990s when carbon nanotubing was initially discovered, there has been a mini spin off of an arms race to determine who can create the blackest material of all time. Prior to Vantablack, the blackest material known to mankind let in 0.04% of light. The differentiator for Vantablack, however: it can be grown on lighter materials whereas in the past, others had to be created at extremely low temperatures, which means Vantablack is far more practical than anything that came before it. For one, it can be used to calibrate cameras that take pictures of the universe’s oldest objects, which means high fives all around for scientists everywhere.

While this material is being further developed, and is still extremely expensive, we can expect to see big things coming from the thing that looks like a big, black hole.

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