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Accidentally discovered blue pigment ready for industrial application

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Posted May 29, 2015

It is said that many civilizations throughout the history tried to create vivid, near-perfect blue pigment. Ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, Mayan cultures and others were trying to create this perfect colour with different results. However, scientists at Oregon State University did it by accident and now this blue pigment is licensed and ready for industrial applications.

Vivid blue pigment has puzzled entire civilizations, but finally was created in laboratory by happy accident. It proved to be nontoxic, durable and easy to manufacture (Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

Vivid blue pigment has puzzled entire civilizations, but finally was created in laboratory by happy accident. It proved to be nontoxic, durable and easy to manufacture (Image courtesy of Oregon State University)

Discovery or, rather, invention of this new pigment was a complete accident. Mas Subramanian, OSU chemist, and his team were experimenting with new materials that could be used in electronics applications back in 2009. During these experiments they mixed manganese oxide – which is black in colour – with other chemicals and heated them in a furnace to nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093.3 degrees Celsius). One of the samples turned out to be nearly perfect vivid blue colour.

This new pigment is formed from a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, while only reflecting blue. Because compounds that form this pigment are so stable and durable, blue colour does not fade even in oil and water. Scientists say that none of the pigment’s ingredients are toxic, which, combined with its durability, means that there are many possible applications of it in the industry.

Subramanian said that “it was serendipity, actually; a happy, accidental discovery”, but now this happy accident is going to be used in industry. Oregon State University has now reached an exclusive licensing agreement for the pigment, which is known as “YInMn” blue, with The Shepherd Color Company. It will be used in a wide range of coatings and plastics. Another commercial use of the product may be in roofing materials, because compound has infrared reflectivity of about 40 %. But the thing scientists are mostly thrilled about is its not toxic, safe characteristics.

The lack of toxic materials is a hallmark of the new pigment. Mas Subramanian said that “ever since the early Egyptians developed some of the first blue pigments, the pigment industry has been struggling to address problems with safety, toxicity and durability.” New pigment is also relatively easy to manufacture, which makes it perfect for different purposes it is now going to be applied to.

This story is a perfect illustration how science makes even scientists surprised in unexpected ways. As they were working with other experiments they managed to produce something humanity has struggled with for centuries and it happened to be applicable in various industries completely by accident. Now scientists will try to discover new pigments by creating intentional laboratory “accidents”. However, even now their achievement proved to be successful enough and will soon be used in commercial products.

Source: Oregon State University

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