Academic journal article The Science Teacher

New Blue Pigment

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

New Blue Pigment

Article excerpt

An accidental discovery in a laboratory at Oregon State University (OSU) has apparently solved a quest that for over thousands of years has absorbed the energies of ancient Egyptians, the Han Dynasty, and Mayan cultures--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. 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.

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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 do not fade after a week in an acid bath.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and an application for a patent on the composition of the compound and the process used to create it has been submitted.

"Basically, this was an accidental discovery," says Mas Subramanian, the Milton Harris professor of materials science in the OSU Department of Chemistry. "We were exploring manganese oxides for some interesting electronic properties 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 says. …

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