The New ‘Blacker Than Black’ Metamaterial Created

A ‘blacker than black’ stuff has been created, which, according to scientists, is made of metamaterials that absorbs virtually all the light that hits it. This “blacker than black” stuff is an example of a class of substances known as metamaterials, which exhibit optical properties not normally found in nature.

A B-2 Spirit bomber flying over Guam. A team of researchers from Purdue University and Norfolk State University in Virginia designed a new metamaterial that absorbs almost all the light that hits it, heralding a new wave of stealth technology. Photo: U.S. Air Force

A ‘blacker than black’ stuff has been created, which, according to scientists, is made of metamaterials that absorbs virtually all the light that hits it. This “blacker than black” stuff is an example of a class of substances known as metamaterials, which exhibit optical properties not normally found in nature, the NewScientist.com reports.

Metamaterials consist of a regular array of two or more tiny components, each smaller than the wavelengths of the light they interact with. It is this array-like internal structure that gives them their unusual properties. Ordinary black objects, by contrast, always reflect a bit of light. The material could be applied to all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, meaning it could be used to make materials invisible to radar.

Evgenii Narimanov of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, realised that it should be possible to design a metamaterial with the right internal structure to absorb virtually all the electromagnetic radiation in a particular range. An object made of such a material would effectively be perfectly black.

A 'blacker than black' stuff has been created, which, according to scientists, is made of metamaterials that absorbs virtually all the light that hits it. A B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber is pictured at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam on April 25, 2005. Photo: U.S. Air Force

In collaboration with Narimanov, Mikhail Noginov and colleagues at Norfolk State University in Virginia have now created such a perfectly black material. It consists of silver wires 35 nanometres in diameter, embedded in 1-centimetre squares of aluminium oxide, 51 micrometres thick.

The researchers tested their handiwork by illuminating polished and roughened versions of the material with near-infrared radiation at a wavelength of around 900 nanometres, just beyond the red end of the visible spectrum. With the radiation hitting the material at an angle less than 45 degrees from the perpendicular, they found that 20 per cent of it was reflected if the surface was polished, though the proportion dropped to less than 1 per cent if it was roughened.

The concept is “equally applicable to all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum”, Narimanov told a session of the Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics last month in San Jose, California. “This is a new and valuable result,” says metamaterial pioneer John Pendry of Imperial College London.

Narimanov told New Scientist, that the primary application of this type of material is likely to be military, for use in “stealth technology in the gigahertz range” – in other words, to build equipment invisible to radar. [via New Scientist and Pop Sci]

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