YInMn: How Did a ‘New’ Shade of Blue Get Discovered After Centuries?

Artists have always been eloquent when it comes to describing blue.

The French painter, Raoul Dufy was a particular fan, declaring that: “blue is the only color which maintains its own character in all its tones.” He would certainly have had much to say about YInMn, a new shade discovered by researchers at Oregon State University in 2009.

M.A. Subramanian and his team discovered this pigment accidentally while carrying out experiments with rare earth elements as part of their work on semiconductors. They took some yttrium, indium and manganese (the three elements that give the pigment its name), plus some oxygen, heated it to around 1,093°C and — hey presto — YInMn was born.

“Most pigments are discovered by chance. The reason is because the origin of the color of a material depends not only on the chemical composition, but also on the intricate arrangement of atoms in the crystal structure. So someone has to make the material first, then study its crystal structure thoroughly to explain the color,” explains Mas Subramanian.

Before YInMn Blue, the last blue pigment to be discovered dates back to the 19th century, the Oregon State University researchers explain. As well as bringing something new to the color palette, YInMn Blue, known for its deep color, could also be of environmental interest. Its crystal structure reportedly reflects infrared radiation, which could make it useful in improving the thermal insulation of buildings.

Oregon State University patented YInMn Blue in 2012, but had to wait five years for the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to approve the pigment for use — initially only for industrial coatings and plastics, then for commercial use back in May. But anyone tempted to use YinMn Blue for your latest creations should note that it is currently only sold by a few retailers — such as Kremer Pigmente in Germany and Golden Artist Colors in the US — and at quite a price, around €41.65 for 100 grams of pigment.

Now that YInMn Blue is on track to join the color palette of visual artists, M.A. Subramanian and his team are turning their attention to another color: red. “If successful, our research will discover bright, environmentally benign pigments that can be used by artists, in industrial paints and in other coating technologies. It would also bring a huge long-term payoff, not only as a commercial success but by advancing color chemistry and technology,” the chemist explains.

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