Back in 2009, a lab full of chemists stumbled across a new pigment, more or less by sheer chance. After being heralded as “the creation of a near-perfect blue pigment,” this coincidental eureka moment is now being manufactured for artists’ brushes.
This burst of blue came about when scientists at Oregon State University (OSU) heated manganese oxide, along with other chemicals, to over 1,200°C (2,000°F). Although the scientists were actually looking at manganese oxide for some of its electronic properties, one of their reactions inadvertently birthed a new pigment: the catchily named “YInMn blue.”
“Basically, this was an accidental discovery,” said Mas Subramanian, a Milton Harris professor of materials science in the OSU Department of Chemistry, in a statement. "Our work had nothing to do with looking for a pigment.
He added: “Then one day a graduate student who is working on the project was taking samples out of a very hot furnace while I was walking by, and it was blue, a very beautiful blue. I realized immediately that something amazing had happened.”
So, what’s so special about this blue?
This pigment is far more stable when exposed to heat or acidic conditions. Additionally, unlike Prussian blue or Cobalt blue pigments, it doesn’t release cyanide and is not carcinogenic – that's always a plus. Not only that, the highly reflective properties of the new pigment means it could be used in paints that could help keep buildings cool by reflecting infrared light.
Subramanian told Artnet in a recent interview that the pigment has become a popular choice among artists because of its vivid color and resistant properties. The paint manufacturers Shepherd Color Company have also licensed a patent and is now selling samples of YInMn blue.
He added: “Our pigment is useful for art restoration, because it is similar to ultramarine but really more durable.”