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Surprising Science

Carbon Nanotubes Hide 3-D Objects in Plain Sight

By taking advantage of the low refractive index of low-density aligned nanotubes, University of Michigan researchers have made 3-D objects appear as nothing more than a flat, black sheet.

What’s the Latest Development?

Using carbon nanotubes, famous for being the world’s strongest and most conductive material, scientists at the University of Michigan have been able to camouflage three-dimensional objects against a background, smoothing out their visual curves and colors. Nanotubes act like the air in a forest, taking in a lot of light and refracting very little of it. By coating an object (a tank) with carbon nanotubes, researchers could make it appear as nothing more than a black sheet when light was shined on it.

What’s the Big Idea?

Carbon nanotubes are tiny cylinders composed of one-atom-thick carbon lattices and while a flat black sheet standing in midair might draw just as much attention as a tank, against a black background, three dimensional objects could be made virtually invisible. Against the black of outer space, for example, the technology could prove useful. “In such cases the carbon nanotube forest ‘acts as a perfect magic black cloth that can completely conceal the 3-D structure of the object,’ the researchers write.”

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