Their Dark Materials

99% Invisible


About a year ago. We released an episode in which I interviewed the author. Cassius unclear about her book. The secret lives of color. It was a conversation about the history and origins of different colors throughout human existence. During our talk does he and I covered everything from a type of purple. That squeezed from sees nails do a shade of green. That could literally kill you but there was one pigment in particular from that episode that one of our producers. Here's here nine hundred hasn't been able to stop thinking about because it's bonkers producer. Vivian lay. It's called Vance a black. It's a pigment that reaches the level of darkness. That's so intense. It's kind of upsetting. It's so black. It's like looking at a hole cut out of the universe. It's so black. It's like looking at portal into another dimension of nothingness. It's so black that if you stare at it long enough you'll see your own death. I keep going these metaphors or crummy but it it's it's like this philosophical abyss. Your is just fall into it. This is Adam. Rogers journalist writer wired and I write books sometimes to Rogers has written about van to block for wired because when anyone sees with not just Vivian. They think it's bonkers. It makes you rethink think. What black means fantastic is striking when you look at it even when you look at a picture of it because it looks like something colored black it looks like an absence Vanna black swallows nearly all visible light in gives back no reflection so every contour crease of whatever it's applied to disappears it has this ought affect of making something look two dimensional while at the same time as if you could fall right through it? It has the same feeling looking looking at it as a color that looking over the edge of a building or something does he actually do. Feel kind of a physiological response to that does not look right that looks unreal. It looks real. VENTA black was created by the tech industry for the tech industry. But this strange dark material would actually go on to turn the art world on its head They're black pigments out there and then there are super black pigments. That are so dark. They need to be created in a laboratory. These super blacks excrete such extreme levels of darkness. Because they're made up of something called Carbon Nanotubes or C. N.. Tease Carbon nanotubes are pretty much. Exactly what they sound like teeny tiny microscopic tubes combranch of carbon atoms just a few nanometers wide for reference. A single human hair is about eighty to a hundred thousand nanometers. animators Y T materials are made up of forests of these microscopic carbon tubes. I'd say it's like a field of gross. Okay and the grass is a carbon nanotubes in about one six thousand two thickness of your hair and there's about a billion of them per square centimeter. This is Ben Johnson the founder and CTO Joe of Serena Systems which specializes in carbon nanotubes technology. He's the kind of person who even as a kid you'd expect to become the founder and CTO of of a carbon nanotubes technology company. When I went through school I spent my time trying to make gunpowder type rocket And then I kind of went to develop liquid. Propellant systems is that we're all the dangerous and needs to go bang and kind of not very safe back then. People didn't really care that much about safety and they go yeah. This sounds like a really cool idea. Goods this is not a really cool idea. Jensen began working in the nanomaterials field in two thousand four back then. CNT's had a lot of promise in the space industry because super black coatings could be really useful inside of satellites telescopes and optical imaging technology but carbon nanotubes. Technology wasn't quite where it needed to be yet. CNT's these weren't like paint. They had to be grown onto a surface in a special type of reactor at an absurdly high temperature. High enough to destroy. Most of the things you might I wanna grow them on Johnson and his team worked on it for years and finally managed to develop a new reactor that allowed them to grow see and tease at a much lower temperature and in doing so they had one unexpected but delightful side effect they made it blacker one day. We go to some data back. They said back. Do you realize what you've done you've this material. And it's got almost unmeasurable low reflectance and I was a K.. What does that mean? It meant that Serena systems had created the darkest substance on earth material that absorbed ninety nine point nine six five percent of light. He couldn't tell from the numbers but Jensen new the cat was really special after one of his researchers showed him a sample said. Look I'm like okay. What am I looking at? It just looks black and said look and I'm putting my face right up beside it and the guy's looking laughing at me alum gain a it just looks black. And then he did something that just told me with nailed it. He took an object of the surface that was three dimensional so before matt helpless put my eyes to it. I couldn't tell us anything that was just flat. Danson black was so dark that it almost felt like it defied Clyde the laws of physics we weren't looking to create the world's blackest material. That's a thing Johnson and his team decided to give this new flashy C. N. T. of flashing flashing name Vance a black which stands for vertically aligned nanotubes array black as black as Vance. A black was surrey. NANNA systems systems still saw it as a niche material so when they launched their product at the Farnborough Airshow in two thousand fourteen. They saw themselves as small fry. Farm Farm Bureau is a big deal. In the aerospace industry Serena Systems was presenting their nanomaterial at the same event as the Boeing dreamliner military jets and a paragliding car so Jensen wasn't expecting to make much of a splash. But that's not what actually happened was just surreal. We had camera crews literally all the major networks filming looking at these materials because knowing it ever seen it demonstrated like this before people were freaking out. over Vance a black. We just didn't expect it and my son was like well. He's just black. Why are we getting these people going crazy about it? People were amazed by the depth of darkness achieved by Van Black and wanted to know. More soon enough Serena systems was receiving all sorts of requests from people who wanted a piece of it. Aw People wanting to coach because people want to coat dice in it coat bodies in it. We had a very well known youtuber. The spent quite asking us saying can can you please live on youtube aside from that time. potty Canadian what really caught Jensen's attention was the amount of interest is that came from another field in desperate need of super black pigment. The Art World in those first couple of weeks alone Surrey Nano Systems received saved over four hundred inquiries from artists wanting to use it in their work the number of people in the art world that wanted to use it that that was absolutely absolutely crazy time. Actually because we're a company set up to do engineering and space not accompany the setup to create products for artists to us working with artists. Artis was just not something Serena systems was equipped to do because Vance black was incredibly hard to work with sure they could grow at a much lower temperature than before that was still about four hundred and thirty degrees centigrade. Cat's were also really delicate and can scrape off easily but most importantly any collaboration with artists would take up time in tech resources. Because anything coated with Banda black would have to be grown in Serena systems reactors just wasn't a practical proposition for the company that said an ish is an incredibly charismatic. Chat with an amazing vision and and his life's work has just been phenomenal an eastern as in a niche Kapoor. Who if you haven't heard of him? Before is very famous so for decades has been one of the premier contemporary artists working today says Adam Rogers again use the kind of person who will do a whole gallery takeover teen modern you know. He's he's a really big deal. We should know here that initiative did not respond to an interview request for this story but he's probably best known for creating Chicago's iconic cloud gate sculpture also known as the bean and and he has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his contributions to visual arts. And when Vance black debuted he wanted it. So he reached out Serena Systems and invited Jensen to check out a studio or walked into his studio and I was literally speeches or what I saw given his body of work. Kapoor seemed uniquely suited for this material. There is in a way a constant continuous process that gives up the same questions. This is a niche poor. In a video he released about one of his pieces titled Dissension. So those those questions are for me. The void object or the non object many questions about color questions about space and time. Because I really do believe that for there to be new objects has to be new. Space Kapoor has has a fascination with blacks capacity to make something both exist and not exist at the same time his work. A lot of it deals with voight. It deals with colored blocks and try to understand the relationship between color space

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