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)

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User comments : 6

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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.

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