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Picture of Professor Mas Subramanian with a Molecular Model of YInMn Blue

At the end of the rainbow: The neverending frontier of color

By AJ Damiana, Beaver Digest Contributor

This story was originally published in Beaver Digest

Chemistry Professor Mas Subramanian holds a molecular model of YInMn Blue.

In 2023, there were an estimated 1.5 million animal species on Earth– only one is truly blue.

The Obrina Olivewing butterfly is the only observed animal that internally produces a blue pigment; the scales of other blue butterflies are complex structures that only refract blue light.

But blue’s rarity is not limited to the organic world.

“For 200 years people have been looking for a new blue color pigment,”said Mas Subramanian, a Distinguished Professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Chemistry. “We made it unexpectedly.”

The last blue pigment to come onto the market was in the 1930s, with the discovery of Phthalo blue. Before that, only a handful of other pigments were available to artists– most of them either toxic, faded quickly, or expensive.

Ultramarine blue was so coveted, the famous Dutch artist Vermeer went bankrupt trying to purchase it.

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