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Surrey NanoSystems via CNET

This Material Is So Dark, You Can't See It

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Surrey NanoSystems via CNET

If I were a supervillain, I’d want my name to be Vantablack. Unfortunately, that moniker is already taken, but not by a Hollywood bad guy. No, its owner is even more dark and mysterious: Vantablack is the darkest material ever made.

Created by a British company called Surrey NanoSystems, Vantablack absorbs all but 0.035 percent of visible light. It is grown on sheets of aluminum foil and consists of a bunch of microscopic carbon nanotubes so tightly packed together that light particles can’t escape. "Take one of the hairs on your head,” Ben Jensen, the chief technical officer of Surrey NanoSystems, explained to The Guardian. “Split that hair 10,000 times and one of the strands that you take away is the size of the tubes that we grow."

This material is so dark, it removes all texture from the surface to which it is applied. Human eyes don’t really know what to make of it. Here’s how Jensen explains what Vantablack does to crumpled aluminum foil: "You expect to see the hills and all you can see … it's like black, like a hole, like there's nothing there. It just looks so strange."

The visual void Vantablack produces reminds me of the Portable Holes from Wile E. Coyote cartoons. Indeed, Stephen Westland, professor of color science and technology at Leeds University, told The Independent that the material is “almost as close to a black hole as we could imagine."

So, why create something so dark? Vantablack will be used to help calibrate space cameras and telescopes. According to Jensen, “it reduces stray-light, improving the ability of sensitive telescopes to see the faintest stars.” And the military will no doubt want to get its hands on Vantablack for stealth operations, but Surrey NanoSystems is keeping quiet about that. It is also coy about disclosing Vantablack’s price, but says it’s “very expensive.”

(TRY TO) SEE FOR YOURSELF

For the next four months, Vantablack will be on display in London at the Science Museum.

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environment
Environmental Pollution Is Deadlier Than Smoking, War, AIDS or Hunger, Experts Find
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iStock

In 1970, Congress pushed forward the Clean Air Act, which took aggressive steps to monitor and control pollutants in the environment via federal regulations. Over the years, people living in the United States have been exposed to considerably fewer contaminants such as lead and carbon monoxide.

But as a new study in the Lancet medical journal points out, pollution continues to be a global crisis, and one that might carry a far more devastating mortality rate than previously believed. Analyzing the complete picture of contaminated regions around the globe, study authors believe pollution killed 9 million people in 2015—more than smoking, AIDS, war, or deaths from hunger.

The study’s authors aggregated premature deaths on a global basis that were attributable to pollution, singling out certain regions that continue to struggle with high concentrations of toxic materials. In India, one in four premature deaths (2.5 million) was related to environmental contamination. In China, 1.8 million people died due to illnesses connected to poor air quality.

A lack of regulatory oversight in these areas is largely to blame. Dirty fossil fuels, crop burning, and burning garbage plague India; industrial growth in other locations often leads to pollution that isn’t being monitored or controlled. Roughly 92 percent of deaths as a result of poor environmental conditions are in low- or middle-income countries [PDF].

The study also notes that the 9 million estimate is conservative and likely to rise as new methods of connecting pollution-related illness with mortality in a given area are discovered. It’s hoped that increased awareness of the problem and highlighting the economic benefits of a healthier population (lower health care costs, for one) will encourage governments to take proactive measures.

[h/t Phys.org]

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This Just In
Pablo Neruda's Death Wasn't Caused by Cancer, Experts Conclude
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MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images

Pablo Neruda—whose real name was Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto—died on September 23, 1973, less than two years after he was awarded the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature. The official cause of death was recorded as cancer cachexia, or wasting syndrome, from prostate cancer. But while Neruda did have cancer, new tests on his remains indicate that the left-leaning Chilean politician and poet didn’t actually succumb to the disease, according to BBC News.

It’s still unclear what, exactly, caused Neruda’s demise. But in a recent press conference, a team of 16 international experts announced that they were "100 percent convinced" that the author's death certificate "does not reflect the reality of the death,” as quoted by the BBC.

Neruda died in 1973 at the age of 69, less than two weeks after a military coup led by General Augusto Pinochet ousted the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. Neruda, a Communist, was a former diplomat and senator, and a friend of the deposed politician.

In 2011, Manuel Araya, Neruda’s chauffeur, claimed that the poet had told him that Pinochet’s men had injected poison into his stomach as he was hospitalized during his final days, Nature reports. The Communist Party of Chile filed a criminal lawsuit, and Neruda’s remains were exhumed in 2013 and later reburied in 2016, according to the BBC.

Many of Neruda’s relatives and friends were reportedly skeptical of Araya’s account, as was the Pablo Neruda Foundation, according to The New York Times. But after samples of Neruda’s remains were analyzed by forensic genetics laboratories in four nations, Chile’s government acknowledged that it was “highly probable” that his official cause of death was incorrect.

And now, the team of scientists has unanimously ruled out cachexia as having caused Neruda’s death. “There was no indication of cachexia,” said Dr. Niels Morling, a forensic medical expert from the University of Copenhagen, as quoted by The Guardian. Neruda “was an obese man at the time of death. All other circumstances in his last phase of life pointed to some kind of infection.”

The investigating team says that their analysis yielded what might be lab-cultivated bacteria, although it could have also originated from the burial site or been produced during the body's decomposition process. Test results will be available within a year, they say.

[h/t BBC News]

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