Happy Accident: Scientists Give the World A New Blue

Art & Design

YinMn Blue Pigment

The color known as YInMn blue was accidentally discovered in 2009 at the University of Oregon

A happy accident that occurred in 2009 is about to color the world a ravishing new shade of blue—and, well, lucky us!  YInMn blue (named for the pigment’s primary elements of Yttrium, Indium and Manganese), a deep and dazzling pigment, has just been licensed for commercial use—and artists, designers, and creatives the world over are, no doubt, taking note. Discovered in the labs of the University of Oregon, YInMn blue was the result of a serendipitous mingling of chemicals—including black manganese oxide—which, when heated to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, miraculously resulted in a blue of uncommon vibrancy and a number of other key properties. Imbued, it turned out, with fade-resistance and durability rarely present in other vivid blues (like indigo, ultramarine, cobalt, and Prussian blue), YInMn carries potentially wide-ranging implications beyond the esthetic world.

University of Oregon scientist, Mas Subramanian, whose 2009 experiments with electronics resulted in the accidental discovery of YInMn blue, explains: “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.” YInMn blue, luckily, is relatively easy to produce, non-toxic, durable even in the face of water and oil, and happens to be good at deflecting infrared light—making it a potential ally in fostering energy efficiency.

While the pigment is not widely available yet, the commercial pigment manufacturer, The Shepard Color Company, has smartly snapped up the color’s licensing rights, and, according to Subramanian, other commercial companies and artists are showing plenty of interest. One artist with inside knowledge, OSU visual arts major Madelaine Corbin, who interns in Subramanian’s lab, is using YInMn blue in her artwork, happy, one imagines, to join the stellar list of famous blue fixated artists—like conceptual artist Anish Kapoor and French painter Yves Klein. “Maddy is the first undergraduate non-science major who is interested in doing hands-on chemistry in our group,” notes Subramanian. Local Oregon artist Carol Chapel has also worked YInMn into her drypoint etchings. The most valuable accolade for YInMn, though, comes from the Forbes Pigment Collection, keeper and historian of the world’s oldest pigments, which has added YInMn to its storied collection. How often does that happen? Only once in a…blue…moon, it turns out.

Carol Chapel YInMn Blue Drypoint Print

Oregon artist Carol Chapel’s monochromatic drypoint etching showcases YInMn blue.


Via Art News

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1 Comment

  1. Bau Outdoors

    Jul 8, 2016 at 6:41 am

    Wow – that top photo of the pigment powder is fantastic. It’s kind of like an intense cobalt blue. Really look forward to seeing the pigment used in product.

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