The world’s whitest paint is now thin enough to coat your car

What’s happening

Scientists who created the world’s whitest paint just adjusted their formula to make a coating of the substance much thinner.

Why it matters

Covering objects such as airplanes, cars and spacecraft with this paint would reduce the use of air conditioning and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2019 Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology invented the blackest of black. It was a color so incredibly dark that it absorbed 99.9% of all visible light, even surpassing the famous Vantablack, a powerful ebony threw the art world into turmoil.

To put it simply, coating a spoon with the vapid hue would be like creating a spoon-shaped black hole in the middle of your kitchen. Long term, this incredible color promised to harness technology like next-generation telescopes, cameras, and even iPhones that required light-blocking capabilities.

But what would happen if we had the polar opposite of the blackest black guy?

Well, last year another team of scientists set out to answer that very question. Purdue University researchers created the whitest of whitea color that reflected an amazing 98.1% light. In fact, this effervescent hue was so unique that the team earned a spot the Guinness Book of Records. But unlike Vantablack, this color promise required a small adjustment: it had to be thinner.

No problem.

The same team behind World’s Whitest Ink just reformatted its chemistry to make the medium significantly less thick. Now, it is said, the special paint is suitable for coating cars, airplanes, trains and even T-shirts. In turn, it would reflect a ton of sunlight off those items, thereby reducing the need for air conditioning.

“Not only does this save money, but it also reduces energy consumption, which in turn reduces greenhouse gas emissions,” says Xiulin Ruan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue and author of the study. said in a statement. “And unlike other cooling methods, this paint radiates all heat into space, which also directly cools our planet.” It’s pretty amazing that one color can do it all.”

You can see a detailed overview of their new formula in an article published Monday in Cell magazine Reports Physical Science.

“I’ve been contacted by everyone from spacecraft manufacturers to architects to companies that make clothes and shoes,” Ruan said. “They had two main questions: where can I buy it and can it be made thinner?”

To be clear, it’s not commercially available yet. But Ruan said the team is currently trying to figure out how to do it.

Two images can be seen side by side.  On the left is a yellow gem against a black background.  On the right is the same setup, except the gem is covered in MIT's blackest black coating.  It basically looks like it's gone.

The Redemption of Vanity is an artwork by MIT Artist-in-Residence Diemut Strebe. On the left is a yellow gem. On the right, the same gem is covered with the blackest black on earth. Look again. It’s there, I promise.

Diemut Streb

Color the world to protect it

At some point in our lives we absorbed some scientific information about fashion. “Don’t wear black when it’s hot, wear white to reflect the heat.” It almost sounds like an excuse at times created to get kids to wear clean clothes that happen to be white for the 14th time is instead of her dirty old Batman shirt.

But it is true.

The color black tends to absorb light and the heat associated with that light, while white reflects both – and that’s why Ruan’s color innovation works.

To create their new iteration of the world’s whitest color, the researchers created what they called a nanoporous substance that contained hexagonal boron nitride as a pigment, a chemical they believe is primarily used in lubricants. A layer of this medium just 150 micrometers (0.15 millimeters) thick was enough to achieve a solar reflectance of 97.9%.

“Hexagonal boron nitride has a high refractive index, which results in strong scattering of sunlight,” explains Andrea Felicelli, Ph.D. Mechanical engineering student and author of the study, said in a statement. “The particles of this material also have a unique morphology that we call nanoplates.” In other words, according to the team’s models, the hexagonal shape of the molecule was key. This type of nanoplate seemed to reflect the sun’s rays more effectively than spherical nanoparticles typically used in other cooling colors.

The novel light-color formula contrasts with the team’s previous one, which included barium sulfate, An inexpensive white crystalline powder known for its light reflecting ability. This version required a layer of 400 microns (0.4 millimeters) to achieve the desired reflective result. Pretty vigorous to paint when you think about it.

“That’s fine if you’re painting a sturdy stationary structure, like the roof of a building,” Ruan said. “But in applications that have precise size and weight requirements, the paint has to be thinner and lighter.” Aka, if we want to reduce the consumption of air conditioning in cars or try to reduce our home’s electricity bill by having a fresh, new , dress wardrobe coated with hexagonal boron nitride.

A black and white extreme close-up of two color patches seen side by side.  You can see that the left swatch is significantly thicker than the right swatch.

You can see the previous version of the white color team on the left and the new one on the right.

Purdue University/Andrea Felicelli

To take this a step further, the team also included “air bubbles” in the paint’s ingredient list, because that makes the goo very porous (on a really, really fine scale). This lower density, they say, in addition to the thinness, also made the paint 80% lighter than the barium sulfate version.

“An airplane parked on the tarmac on a hot summer day doesn’t have to run its air conditioning as hard to cool the interior, which saves large amounts of energy,” says George Chiu, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue and author of the Study said in a statement. “Spacecraft also need to be as light as possible, and this color can be a part of that.”

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