Crystalline blues

Turns out we don’t have all of the colors we can paint with. A group from Oregon State University created a new color of blue back in 2009, by which the researchers mean it was a total accident. It probably took 7 years before the press got a hold of it because of copyright and patenting processes, and likely trying to recreate that accident, and also the fact that scientific research is really slow. Who knows. Either way, it looks quite fetching.

OK, the name’s not exactly fetching. Come on, “YInMn blue“? I know that rarely do things sound sexy in science, but come on! First of all, Mas Subramanian and his group at Oregon State discovered it, they could call it whatever they want. Second, YInMn (which is probably pronounced as you think it would) tells you what makes up the stuff – it’s a crystal network made of yttrium, indium, and manganese. What makes YInMn blue good material is that according to Smith et al., it absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation without degrading, which is good for the kind of material you want to use to cool something down. UV radiation is a common problem in materials research because it’s highly energetic, it attacks bonds between atoms, and (thanks to oxygen from the atmosphere) forms some new bonds that aren’t always a good thing; this is where you get cracked plastic, wire insulation that gets hard and brittle (and it’s not supposed to, especially if there’s electricity running through it), and clothing can look weathered. OK, the last one isn’t so bad; just mark it off as ‘vintage’. Cool for clothing, not so much for electrical systems (a burned-out house isn’t ‘vintage’, and good luck with your insurance claims adjuster).

YInMn (or anything blue, or really anything) cools things down by reflecting infrared radiation, which we often perceive as heat (see below). Which is good, since the sun shoots out quite a bit of it (including UV rays, which isn’t the greatest, either). So, what have we got? A cooling material that can stand up to being outside. You could imagine it on clothing, cars, roofs, maybe even solar-panel materials. OK, fine, it was an accident, but look how well that turned out for the Subramanian research group. It’s how we got penicillin and the microwave, right?


Featured articles: Smith AE, Mizoguchi H, Delaney K, Spaldin NA, Sleight AW, Subramanian MA. (2009) “Mn3+ in Trigonal Bipyramidal Coordination: A New Blue Chromophore” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 131(47): 17084-17086

Smith AE, Comstock MC, Subramanian MA. (2016) “Spectral properties of the UV absorbing and near-IR reflecting blue pigment, YIn1-xMnxO3.” Dyes and Pigments 133, 214-221.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-30, author: Jtangosu, 2016)


  1. The name is not very catchy. They should have a media guy help with a name that could be promoted better . I would not go with the guy that Pluto used, not being a planet anymore is not a fun thing to be known for, right? Bill Nye might be available.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fifty-five years ago my favorite ink made by Schaffer was ” Blue Black. ” Yes, I carried and used a fountain pen in elementay school. I must re-read
    ‘[Created]’. I have always enjoyed ” The Secret of Light ” by Sir Walter Russell.

    Liked by 1 person

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