Newhaven inventors of the world’s blackest black

Scientists Holding Vantablack In Demo

You might have heard of Vantablack, a mysterious material that has attracted worldwide media attention. Anish Kapoor has exclusive rights to use the material in artworks, which sparked a colour war within the art world, but you probably don’t know that the inventor of this revolutionary material is Surrey NanoSystems, which contrary to what its name suggests, is based in Newhaven, East Sussex.

Vantablack is the blackest man-made substance on earth – so dark that it absorbs 99.96 per cent of light.  When it is applied to a 3D object it becomes extremely difficult to detect any surface features at all, making the object appear completely flat. It’s made from microscopic vertical tubes ‘nanotubes’ that trap light and reflect so little light back that it is often described as the closest thing to a black hole that we’ll ever see.

3D Demostration of Vantablack Applications on Bust

Originally developed for the space sector for use in satellite calibration systems, its unique physical and optical properties have resulted in widespread applications. Nanomaterial has tremendous potential to solve real world challenges in microelectronics, clean technology and aerospace applications. In sensitive telescopes, Vantablack can help to detect the faintest stars thousands of light years away. Surrey NanoSystems is the only company in Europe producing a material with this performance.

Scientific Equipment With Vantablack Coating vs Normal

Design and innovation is very important to the success of Surrey NanoSystems, and with venture capital funding of over £9 million as well as funding from Innovate UK for its “Space for Growth” project, the company has developed its own reactors and process to create the materials it investigates.

East Sussex has a legacy of being at the forefront of innovation and breakthroughs. The most notable took place in a small rented studio above a shop in Queen’s Arcade, Hastings. When on 25 October 1925, John Logie Baird built what was to become the world’s first working television set.

Inventions mark progress and the vision of innovators such as Surrey NanoSystems and the growth of tech companies and digital start-ups particularly in Brighton and now Newhaven, is having a huge impact on the local area. They are part of a growing number of companies attracted to Newhaven, which is helping to drive the regeneration of a town, which some might say has been long overlooked.

Surrey NanoSystems moved to Newhaven from the University of Surrey in 2015 because of the infrastructure and location. Working mainly with businesses in the aerospace and electronics sectors, the company trades internationally so relies on easy access to Gatwick airport, about an hour away, for distribution of large freight items abroad.

Seven Sisters East Sussex On The Seaside, Chalk Cliffs

Despite its reputation as a gritty industrial port town, it is a great location. It has easy access to Brighton (30 mins by car and train), London (90 mins by train), and even France by ferry to Dieppe. Newhaven is situated at the mouth of the River Ouse and is surrounded by breath taking scenery of the South Downs and the Seven Sisters. As you might expect with its proximity to the sea, Newhaven is home to not one, but two thriving marinas and its own fishing fleet of around 30 vessels, and a fish market. The Newhaven and Seaford Sailing Club is based there with scuba diving, water skiing and paddle-boarding. 

“I like the fact that I can enjoy the leisure of life in a beautiful area whilst remaining close to the great nightlife in Brighton and London.”

Chief Technical Officer and founder of Surrey NanoSystems, Ben Jensen said: “Fantastic lifestyle is really important to us; it’s one of the reasons we moved to East Sussex. I like the fact that I can enjoy the leisure of life in a beautiful area whilst remaining close to the great nightlife in Brighton and London.”

It is because of its physical capacity for growth that Newhaven is currently the focus of major regeneration, thanks to an Enterprise Zone scheme which includes £80 million of investment. With room for growth for expanding businesses and connections to the wider economy, Newhaven is fast emerging as a major economic hub. 

Over the next 25 years, the ‘Newhaven Enterprise Zone’ is set to shift the town to a higher value economy. The Enterprise Zone covers approximately 79 hectares and is home to a growing number of emerging specialisms including high-end manufacturing research and development and the creative industries, and since the development of Rampton Wind Farm, the servicing of which is done from the town, this also includes offshore wind and marine engineering. ‘Clean, Green & Marine’ is building on Newhaven’s historic strengths as a port town and gateway to the continent.


Jonathan Glazier filming the Channel 4 idents at Surrey Nanosystems Research FacilityJonathan Glazier filming the Channel 4 idents at Surrey Nanosystems Research Facility

The £2.5 million Newhaven Growth Quarter provides co-working space for start-ups and emerging businesses, and with a new University Technical College, UTC@Harbourside, specialising in environmental engineering for 14-19 year olds, and the growing number of businesses relocating to the area attracted by the Enterprise Zone, opportunities in visitor and the employment sector are vast.

With plans to grow in the market, and scale up production and its workforce to become the biggest employer in Newhaven, Surrey NanoSystems is expanding by acquiring an additional facility in the Enterprise Zone. Ben Jensen added: “We never have a problem getting people to move here as the region has a lot to offer.”

Female Scientists in Surrey NanoSystems promotional shot

There are so many new people coming to the town that there are huge opportunities for creatives and independent businesses to invest in the area and act as a catalyst for cultural regeneration too.

Investment is underway to develop the town centre, which will unlock its enormous potential and restore it to the heart of the community. This will give businesses even more reason to relocate to the town, bringing new job opportunities for local residents and driving economic growth in the area. This combination is delivering an exciting outlook for Newhaven for the economy and for the environment.

Images courtesy: Surrey NanoSystems

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