Accidental discovery produces durable new blue pigment for multiple applications

Nov 16, 2009
Variations of a new blue pigment were developed by chemists at Oregon State University, based on manganese.

An accidental discovery in a laboratory at Oregon State University has apparently solved a quest that over thousands of years has absorbed the energies of ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, Mayan cultures and more - the creation of a near-perfect blue pigment.

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. Most had environmental or durability issues. 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.

But chemists at OSU have discovered new compounds based on manganese that should address all of those concerns. They are safer to produce, much more durable, and should lead to more environmentally benign blue pigments than any being used now or in the past. They can survive at extraordinarily high temperatures and don't fade after a week in an acid bath.

The findings were just published in the , and a patent has been applied for on the composition of the compound and the process used to create it. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.

An unusual "trigonal bipyramidal coordination" of manganese compounds was used to create a new blue pigment that is safe to produce, durable and environmentally benign.

"Basically, this was an accidental discovery," said Mas Subramanian, the Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science in the OSU Department of Chemistry. "We were exploring manganese oxides for some interesting they have, something that can be both ferroelectric and ferromagnetic at the same time. Our work had nothing to do with looking for a pigment.

"Then one day a graduate student who is working in the project was taking samples out of a very hot furnace while I was walking by, and it was blue, a very beautiful blue," he said. "I realized immediately that something amazing had happened."

What had happened, the researchers said, was that at about 1,200 degrees centigrade - almost 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit - this otherwise innocuous turned into a vivid blue compound that could be used to make a pigment able to resist heat and acid, be environmentally benign and cheap to produce from a readily available mineral.

The newest - and possibly the best - blue pigment in world history was born, due to manganese ions being structured in an unusual "trigonal bipyramidal coordination" in the presence of extreme heat.

"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," Subramanian said.

The pigment may eventually find uses in everything from inkjet printers to automobiles, fine art or house paint, researchers say.

The scientists said in their journal article that the new compound yields "a surprisingly intense and bright blue color," and they have outlined its structure and characteristics in detail. Collaborating on the work were researchers in the Materials Department at the University of California/Santa Barbara.

"A lot of the most interesting discoveries are not really planned, we've seen that throughout history," Subramanian said. "There is luck involved, but I also teach my students that you have to stay alert to recognize something when it happens, even if it isn't what you were looking for."

"Luck favors the alert mind."

Source: Oregon State University (news : web)

Explore further: Video: How did life on Earth begin?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers find why ultramarine blue fades

Oct 02, 2006

The 20-year restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel has left visitors in awe of the work's original majesty--notably the brilliance of the blue that graces the Last Judgment's sky. Recent ...

Centuries-old Maya Blue mystery finally solved

Feb 26, 2008

Anthropologists from Wheaton College (Illinois) and The Field Museum have discovered how the ancient Maya produced an unusual and widely studied blue pigment that was used in offerings, pottery, murals and other contexts ...

Prussian Blue for information storage

Jan 17, 2007

In the family of Prussian blue, there is a compound that can act as a switch: it is not magnetic at the outset, but it can become magnetized by the effect of light and return to its initial state by heating. Researchers of ...

Origin of the Blue Mountains studied

Oct 30, 2007

A U.S. study suggests northern Oregon's Blue Mountains may have originated from the Klamath Mountains of southern Oregon and the Sierra Nevada of California.

Recommended for you

Chemical biologists find new halogenation enzyme

Sep 15, 2014

Molecules containing carbon-halogen bonds are produced naturally across all kingdoms of life and constitute a large family of natural products with a broad range of biological activities. The presence of halogen substituents ...

Protein secrets of Ebola virus

Sep 15, 2014

The current Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, which has claimed more than 2000 lives, has highlighted the need for a deeper understanding of the molecular biology of the virus that could be critical in ...

Protein courtship revealed through chemist's lens

Sep 15, 2014

Staying clear of diseases requires that the proteins in our cells cooperate with one another. But, it has been a well-guarded secret how tens of thousands of different proteins find the correct dancing partners ...

Decoding 'sweet codes' that determine protein fates

Sep 15, 2014

We often experience difficulties in identifying the accurate shape of dynamic and fluctuating objects. This is especially the case in the nanoscale world of biomolecules. The research group lead by Professor Koichi Kato of ...

User comments : 6

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

h0dges
Nov 16, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Husky
Nov 16, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Simonsez
2 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2009
What is this, blue-collar comedy hour?

Pretty sure the Mayans had it down, considering theirs is the only pigment that withstood the test of time... Just because we do not know how to reproduce their pigment does not make it less than "near-perfect" as this one claims to be.
Mungaman
3 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2009
This guy is pretty full of himself. Luck favors the alert mind? WTF!?! Sounds pretty familiar...

Chance favors the prepared mind -Louis Pasteur
jonnyboy
3 / 5 (2) Nov 17, 2009
Let's see now, funded by the NSF (our money) and they are going to patent it and get rich. WTF is wrong with this picture?
RolfRomeo
2.3 / 5 (3) Nov 17, 2009
Let's see now, funded by the NSF (our money) and they are going to patent it and get rich. WTF is wrong with this picture?

Capitalism ftw!
eurekalogic
4 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2009
The negativity of the comments I saw is not good. I hope someone noticed that the discovery was more than "blue". Its a blue conductive and magnetic paint. I can think of a thousand uses for this discovery. Be excited for us moving forward and not be full of emotional envy.
SteveL
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 20, 2009
Quote: "Most had environmental or durability issues. 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."

A safe blue that resists fading has always been a challenge. This progress is good - even if it was accidental, and there are a lot worse things for our government to be spending our tax dollars on than studying the properties of materials.