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Blacker than Black

1

Look at the hole in the top of the lid and decide whether it is blacker than the black lid or not. Then open the lid to see what is inside the drum.

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Vision
The hole looks significantly blacker than the black-painted lid, even though the inside of the drum is painted white.

How we see colour

To understand how this works we need to think about how we see. We see objects because light is being reflected off of the object and into our eyes. Most of the light we encounter is white light, white light is made of all the colours of the rainbow or in a more technical term, the visible spectrum. The way we see colour is that coloured objects absorb some colours of light and reflect others, for example, a red object is reflecting red light and absorbing the rest, so we see it as red.

How do we get this effect?

The colour black absorbs most of the light which shines onto it which is why it appears to be so dark. The inside of the drum is actually in darkness as there is very little light getting inside of the small hole in the lid, let alone escaping back out of the small hole and being reflected into your eyes. When you open the lid the light floods in and is reflected into your eyes.

Vantablack

Vantablack is the darkest known substance as it always almost no light to escape its surface (only about 0.035% of light is reflected), it was developed by Surrey Nanosystems. It achieves its darkness due to its structure which comprises of an enormous amount of carbon nanotubes, to give a sense of scale, if you had one centimetre squared of Vantablack it would contain a billion nanotubes which are about ten thousand times thinner than a human hair (about one atom wide). Vantablack therefore is not really a colour at all as it does not involve any pigmentation, but rather it’s the absence of colour.

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Look Closer

Welcome to Look Closer, Techniquest's brand new digital tool. We're trialling Look Closer as a way of offering you a closer look at the science demonstrated by many of our exhibits. You'll find visitor sheets, videos, articles on contemporary science as well as fun trails to navigate your way around the exhibition space.

Speak to our Science Communicators to find out more.