Although it was technically “discovered” all the way back in 2009, the recent announcement by scientists of the discovery of a new color blue is big news indeed. In fact, no new blues have been discovered in over 200 years.
For centuries, people have been using organic compounds to get the color blue they required. Ultramarine, for example, comes from a rock called lapis lazuli, which is difficult to source from the Middle East. Once scientists figured out how to create what they call “complex inorganic pigments,” that is, manmade colors, it became easier to fulfill one of the most requested colors on the color wheel. Until now, cobalt (technically a mix of cobalt and aluminum oxides) has been the most common complex inorganic pigment sold, but it can be toxic and/or fade over time.
The new blue, referred to for now as YInMn, has a lot of potential. It reflects heat better, repels oil more efficiently, and has a very stable hue than other blues on the market. The color’s unique crystalline structure keeps it true-to-color over time, unlike other substitutes. Would you believe its potentially commercially-rewarding discovery was a happy accident?
Back in 2009, scientists and grad students at Oregon State University were working on compounds to be used in electronics. They were essentially combine ground chemicals then heat them to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit to see what happened. As it turns out, when the team mixed together Yttrium, Indium, and Manganese oxides then heated the compound…blue happened. The name YInMn is derived from the combined names of the chemicals, although the name will probably get a catchier reboot once the product hits the market.
What are the next steps for one of the coolest accidental discoveries in the last few years? The Environmental Protection Agency must first review and test the material to ensure it’s safe for commercial chemical manufacturing. From there, a payment system will be put in place that protects the scientists responsible as well as the greater Oregon State University organization.
The most exciting part? The discovery of YInMn doesn’t just mean a new blue; it’s opening the door for a slew of new colors. When the pigment is mixed with other chemicals, say, titanium and zinc, a purple color results. New combinations will be found that uncover greens, oranges and yellows, too.
Who says chemistry isn’t colorful?