It couldn’t get much blacker

black
A few weeks ago I was taking my son to a birthday party and a journalist from The Independent phoned me to ask my opinion on Vantablack. This is the blackest material ever made. Whereas most black materials reflect about 4% of the light (or more) at all wavelengths, this new nano-material has really really low reflectance. It only reflects about 0.035% of the light. I gave a few comments and an article appeared in The Independent which was nice. I used to really like The Independent, back in the days when I read newspapers. The original article by Ian Johnston was very good imho.

However, a few days later the story was all around the world and I was often cited, all based on that one phone interview with Ian. The thing was that it was not even that big news. That is, yes, it is the blackest material ever made, but the truth is it is an incremental improvement in blackness beating the previous blackest material from a few years ago. My name even appeared in the Daily Mail. Most embarrassingly, I was interviewed on an American radio show. The reason I say it was embarrassing was that this new development actually had nothing to do with me and I didn’t want people thinking I was trying to claim credit. So when I agreed to do the radio show I told the researcher that they needed to be clear that this was nothing to do with me. I didn’t invent it. Imagine my surprise when John Hockenberry (that was his name, I believe) asked me, “So Dr Westland, what have you stumbled upon?”. Arghhhhh!!! Luckily, it was not a live interview because it actually got worse. A lot worse. So bad, that I could barely summon up strength to listen to it when it went out the next day. But actually, the editors did a good job and the final cut is not too bad. You can hear it here.

It would be nice to talk about my own work. I work in the area of blackness. One of the things I do is to ask people to rank different black samples in order of least black to most black. This allows me to discover, for example, that women prefer reddish blacks and men prefer bluish blacks. Also, asians prefer reddish blacks and caucasians prefer bluish blacks. I am developing a blackness index; a way to measure a sample and say how black it is or whether one sample is blacker than another. Why? Well, one application is for manufacturers of black ink for printers (which may be made from coloured inks). Different recipes produce different blacks. What if one recipe is chromatically neutral but another recipe is less neural (it has a slight hue) but is darker – which one is blacker?

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