Good news for artists and manufacturers: a vivid new shade of blue that was discovered in a serendipitous lab accident in 2009 will be made available for purchase later this year.
Known as the YInMn blue, the bright durable pigment has been licensed for commercial use through an agreement with Ohio-based Shepherd Color Company, according to artnet News.
A Happy Accident
Mas Subramanian, a professor of materials science at Oregon State University, was leading a group of chemists in several electronics experiments with the goal of creating new materials from manganese oxide.
During those experiments, Subramanian and his team erroneously mixed black manganese oxide with various chemicals and heated the mixture to about 1,093 degrees Celsius (2,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
Surprisingly, one of the samples came out a bit different than what they expected: an intense, impossibly blue pigment.
"It was serendipity, actually," said Subramanian. "A happy, accidental discovery."
The pigment's name, YInMn, is derived for the pigment's elemental makeup, which comprised of Yttrium, Indium and Manganese.
Further testing revealed that the exceptional crystal structure of the compound kept the color from waning, even when it is exposed to water or oil.
According to Mental Floss, this happens because the manganese ions absorb the green and red wavelengths of light, creating a durable blue color that does not fade.
Subramanian said the basic crystal structure for the pigment has been known before, but no one had ever thought of using them for commercial purposes, even as pigment.
And ever since the Egyptian industry created the first blue pigments, manufacturers have struggled to address problems with toxicity, durability and safety.
Indeed, existing shades of blue such as ultramarine are made from ground lapis lazuli. Toxic alternatives also include shades such as Prussian blue and cobalt blue. Fortunately, the new OSU pigment is made with non-toxic properties.
"[It is] more durable, safe and fairly easy to produce," said Subramanian.
Furthermore, Subramanian said the pigment may also be helpful in ensuring energy efficiency.
A roof painted in YInMn blue could potentially keep the building cooler by reflecting infrared light, said Subramanian. The pigment has an infrared reflectivity of approximately 40 percent, which is higher than most shades of blue.
Geoffrey Peake of the Shepherd Color Company said the discovery of the new blue pigment is a sign that many other new pigments could still be found in the inorganic pigments family.
Meanwhile, the pigment has been sent to several artists who used the pigment in their artwork. One of those artists is Madelaine Corbin, an applied visual arts major from OSU, who has been working as an intern in Subramanian's lab. The pigment has also attracted interest from art restorers.