In 2009, a group of chemists accidentally cooked a unique and bright blue pigment, the first new blue pigment to be discovered in 200 years. Now that some controller loops have jumped out, the much-loved pigment is now seeing the light of day.
The pigment – whose name is YInMn – was fully approved for commercial use under U.S. Toxic Control Act and began entering artists’ canvases in 2000, Artnet reported. A number of art suppliers have already started producing the pigment, including Kremer Pigmente, Golden Artist Colors, and Shepherd Color, but it’s said to remain extremely expensive and relatively rare. One shop was reported to sell 40 millimeters (less than a shot glass) of the paint for $179.40.
Crayola announced in May 2017 that it was going to replace its retired “Dandelion” yellow crane with a “new crane” inspired by YInMn’s color, although the crane does not contain the actual pigment.
Like all great discoveries, it was an accident. Scientists led by Subramanian of Oregon State University (OSU) Month discovered an opportunity while researching materials for pigment electronics applications. Graduate student Andrew Smith was trying to make a high-efficiency electronic material by heating manganese oxide to about 1200 degrees centigrade (~2100 °F) when he saw that a startling blue compound had emerged in the furnace.
Subramanian, a Milton Harris professor of materials science in the OSU Department of Chemistry, said in a statement in 2009, “Originally, it was an accidental discovery.” “Our work had nothing to do with pigment detection.” YInMn Blue was named after the main chemical constituents of the pigment: Yttrium, indium, and manganese. You can read a detailed study on pigment making in the journal Inorganic Chemistry in 2015 but those who don’t have a deep knowledge of chemistry may be wondering what a big deal it is.
The industry seems to prefer the color pigment because of its visible and vibrant color, but YInMn is a very stable compound that does not react when heated, cooled, or mixed with water or acid, making it the preferred choice of material. Many other well-known inorganic blue pigments have a fair share of problems – cobalt blue may be carcinogenic, while Prussian blue may reveal cyanide – but YInMn seems relatively safe and environmentally gentle.
Subramanian added, “Since the Egyptians first made the first few blue pigments, the pigment industry has been struggling to cope with problems with safety, toxicity, and durability.” But the story does not end here. Subramanian and his team tweeted the chemical used to make YInMn and created other sustainable colors, including yellow, orange, green, and purple. He was even able to find a $200,000 grant in April 2020 from the National Science Foundation for inorganic, red, and conservative that could be innumerable, protected, and sustainable.