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YInMn Blue

A pile of blue powder on a white table

A testament to discovery

YInMn Blue, or "MasBlue" as it is commonly referred to at Oregon State University, is a serendipitous discovery of a bright blue pigment by scientists led by Mas Subramanian at OSU while researching materials for electronics applications. The pigment contains the elements Yttrium, Indium, Manganese, and Oxygen.

The first new blue in two centuries

In 2009, graduate student Andrew Smith was exploring the electronic properties of manganese oxide by heating it to approximately 1200 °C (~2000 °F). Instead of a new, high-efficiency electronic material, what emerged from the furnace was a brilliant blue compound - a blue that Subramanian knew immediately was a research breakthrough. “If I hadn’t come from an industry research background – DuPont has a division that developed pigments and obviously they are used in paint and many other things – I would not have known this was highly unusual, a discovery with strong commercial potential,” he says.

Blue pigments dating back to ancient times have been notoriously unstable – many fade easily and contain toxic materials. The fact that this pigment was synthesized at such high temperatures signaled to Subramanian that this new compound was extremely stable, a property long sought in a blue pigment, he says.

Read more about the historical context of this discovery

The chemistry of Blue

Trigonal bipyramidal graphic of YInMn Blue

The chemical formula of YInMn Blue is YIn1-xMnxO3. These compositions adopt a crystal structure in which the chromophore responsible for the intense blue color (Mn3+) resides in the trigonal bipyramidal site (shown in blue).

A technical spectral graph of YInMn Blue compared to other blue compounds

The intensity of YInMn Blue's color can be systematically tuned by adjusting the In:Mn ratio. By measuring the spectral properties of this series, it was found that YIn1-xMnxO3 exhibits high absorbance in the UV region and high reflectivity in the near-infrared region when compared to currently-used Cobalt Blue pigments.

Applications and commercialization

In May 2012, the Subramanian team received a patent with the U.S. Patent Office for the new pigment (US82822728). Shepherd Color Co. subsequently entered into a non-disclosure agreement with Oregon State and began rigorous testing of the pigment. They concluded that the increased UV absorbance and stability in outdoor weathering and heat buildup tests demonstrate that YInMn blue is superior to Cobalt Blue (CoAl2O4). In addition, the high solar reflectance (compared to similarly colored pigments) indicates that this "cool pigment" can find use in a variety of exterior applications by reducing surface temperatures, cooling costs, and energy consumption. As a result of this testing, Shepherd Color Co. has licensed the patent for commercialization efforts.

YInMn Blue in art

Recently, several local artists (including OSU art students) have used this pigment in their own professional endeavors, utilizing it in watercolors and drypoint.

Beyond the Blue

The excitement of discovering a brilliant blue, heat reflecting, thermally stable, and UV absorbing pigment did not stop them from exploring beyond the blues. Since then, Subramanian and his team have expanded their research and have made a range of new pigments to include almost every color, from bright oranges to shades of purple, turquoise and green. They continue to search for a new stable, heat reflecting, and brilliant red, the most elusive color to synthesize.

Learn more about YInMn Blue and Mas Subramanian

Blue media

Recent NPR coverage can be seen here!

Available on Amazon: Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt – A globe-trotting quest to find blue in the natural world—and to understand our collective obsession with this captivating color.