24 November 2009

[art] Painters Rejoice: Finally A Perfect, Durable Blue – Oregon State Blue

2265.Pigments in paint are made from some amazing things. Tiny beetles, cochineal, give us many reds (as well as the red food coloring that actually goes into food). Ground semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli) give us the blue in Ultramarine.

Biggest problem with painters' pigments is the permanence. Blues and reds are the worst; unless the works are cared for, they fade over time (artists say that they are fugitive). Moreover, some of the chemicals that create these colors are nasty: cadmium, a heavy metal, is used in both reds and blues (that aren't labelled hue; these colors are analogues), Prussian blue can leach cyanide, and cobalt is a carcinogen).

Enter Oregon State University. Creative things come from OSU – did you know that the humble Maraschino cherry originated at OSU Food Science? Well, they've done it again – accidentally:

So it was a pleasant surprise to chemists at Oregon State University when they created a new, durable and brilliantly blue pigment by accident.

The researchers were trying to make compounds with novel electronic properties, mixing manganese oxide, which is black, with other chemicals and heating them to high temperatures.

Then Mas Subramanian, a professor of material sciences, noticed that one of the samples that a graduate student had just taken out of the furnace was blue.

The pigment is a quantum leap but is very expensive to make, based on the materials involved. They say they're looking for less expensive chemicals to use.

Bravo, OSU … from the hallwed academia of Orange comes Oregon State Blue.

Rumors of a truly durable and permanent red are, of course, still crazy talk, along with warp drive.

(via, via and via, and here's the University's announcment)

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