The Blues Gotcha – stumbling upon the “perfect” blue

Chemists at Oregon State University (OSU) unexpectedly discovered a new, highly-durable, blue pigment this month — what may, in fact, be the “perfect blue.” OSU issued a statement: “Through much of recorded human history, people around the world have sought inorganic compounds that could be used to paint things blue, often with limited success…Cobalt blue, developed in France in the early 1800s, can be carcinogenic. Prussian blue can release cyanide. Other blue pigments are not stable when exposed to heat or acidic conditions.”

The OSU chemists combined manganese oxide (which appears black), with novel electronic compounds at the temperature of around 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As a result, solid crystals formed which contained manganese ions that absorbed only red and green wavelengths, leaving a blue light reflection.

After the manganese containing oxide cooled, the new blue color remained. White yttrium oxide and pale yellow idium oxide were added to stabilize the crystal structure after cooling—if the yttrium oxide and pale yellow idium oxide were not added to stabilize the crystal structure after cooling, the blue color would disappear or fade. Collaborating on the work were researchers in the Materials Department at the University of California/Santa Barbara. To read more about the discovery that would have made artist Yves Klein jealous, see the OSU press announcement.

And, in tribute of this new blue tone, please enjoy this song, “Good Morning Blues” by the American Folk singer Huddle William Ledbetter, aka Lead Belly.

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The image to the left was taken by Oregon State University Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science, Mas Subramanian.

Written by Angie Mah

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