Science is extraordinary. It enables us to discover something new day after day. One unlikely thing that we wouldn't expect to discover though, is a new pigment, which has been described as near-perfect blue.
Take a look:
The accidental discovery was happened upon in a laboratory at Oregon State University. Consequently, it solved a quest that has been sought after for thousands of years by the ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, the Mayan cultures and many more. In fact, much of recorded human history shows that people around the world have sought inorganic compounds that could be used to paint things blue.
However, they seem to have had little success as most had environmental or durability issues. For instance, the cobalt blue color that was developed in France in the early 1800s can be carcinogenic, while Prussian blue can release cyanide. In addition, other blue pigments are not stable when exposed to heat or acidic conditions. But at the OSU, they discovered new compounds based on manganese that should address all these health and environmental concerns.
Therefore, not only are they safer to produce, they are more durable and should lead to more environmentally benign blue pigments than any that have been used in the past. They can also survive at extraordinarily high temperatures and don't fade after a week in an acid bath.
"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 electronic properties they have. Our work had nothing to do with looking for a pigment. Then one day a graduate student who was working on 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.”
According to the researchers, what had happened was that at about 1,200°C (about 2000°F) the manganese oxide turned into a vivid blue compound that can be used to make a pigment that is able to resist both heat and acid, as well as be environmentally benign and cheap to produce from a readily available mineral. It has even been hailed as the newest and best blue pigment in world history.
But, what's next for this stunning shade of blue? The pigment will likely find uses in everything from inkjet printers to automobiles, fine art and also house paint.
To conclude, Subramanian said that “a lot of the most interesting discoveries are not really planned. 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.”