Belgian artist Frederik De Wilde has worked with Melotte, a Belgian 3D printing company and NASA to 3D print a titanium sculpture, coated with graphene, of ancient Limburg mines named 'M1ne #1' - 'The Blacker than Black'.
De Wilde is a guest professor at the Transmedia program at the LUCA School of Arts in Brussels and artist in residence at the University of Hasselt. For a few years he has used nanotechnology to generate "super-black" artworks.
The 'new black' was discovered in 2008 by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rice University in the US. All materials reflect some amount of light. This new black absorbs more than 99,9 percent of light. And whereas the total reflectance of normal black paint is between 5 and 10 percent.
One technique to create super-black artworks is to 'grow' carbon nanotubes on a silicon wafer. When a photon approaches the surface it slips in between the nanotubes, and cannot be reflected. Because colors are generated through the reflection of photons, the surface of De Wilde's artworks appear to be blacker than black. When applied to a complex 3D object it appears to be just a silhouette, because no reflections, highlights or shadows can be seen.
In collaboration with the Rice University, Texas De Wilde made a substance that absorbs nearly all light that falls onto the material. He made a piece of art called 'Hostage' that is 144 times blacker than black.
During his research, De Wilde contacted the U.S. space agency NASA. Unexpectedly, he was given accesses to the laboratories of NASA, where he works with Melotte, the 3D printing company located in Zonhoven. This time his work went further with the 3D printed sculpture 'M1ne #1', with NASA and Melotte's technology involved. The 'M1ne #1' is based on geological data from Limburg. Melotte Zonhoven translated 2D plans of the mine to a complex, print-ready 3D model, and then printed it out in titanium. It was coated in a specific way with carbon nanotubes consisting of graphene using NASA's technology.
The sculpture is an example of optical illusion: it is a 3D structure but you have the illusion of 2D because there is no reflection. It is so deep black that it seems that you are looking into a black hole.
The 'blackest black' offers plenty of applications, besides making artworks, it can also be used for creating efficient heat exchangers, better cinema projectors and night vision and invisible planes. These possibilities explain why NASA is interested in 'blacker than black'. The light reflective properties of graphene are incredibly promising, the material can be used as a coating used in telescopes, cameras, microscopes and it could also increase efficiency of solar cells and panels.
Nano Black Material (Photo credit: De Wilde)
Scanning Electron Microscope Image _ Nano Black Material (Photo credit: De Wilde)