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Technology & Innovation

Uncle Sam Wants You…To Design Super-Black Materials

The US Army is requesting proposals for development of coatings and other substances that will absorb 99 percent of all light.

What’s the Latest Development?

The US Army is looking for proposals from businesses that can create materials and coatings described as “super-black”: something that will absorb almost all light. The program is being run at one of the Pentagon’s primary weapons experimentation centers, but beyond that, very few details are being released about the purposes of these substances. Spokesman Frank Misurelli says, “Possibly in a few months, after [a] contract has been awarded, more information may become available.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Writer Robert Beckhusen speculates on why regular black might not be good enough for the military and how it could be used. Normally, the 5-10 percent of light that’s not absorbed by black bounces back, which could be a problem for high-resolution cameras and sensors. In the extreme cold of space, black also fades and turns silver, which interferes with certain instruments. Last year NASA created a coating made of carbon nanotubes that absorbs up to 99.5 percent of light depending on the wavelength without changing color. Another option, recently developed in the UK, involves dipping an object into a series of chemical solutions to create a black alloy covered with light-absorbing mini-craters.

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