In 2009, Oregon State University professor Mas Subramanian did something that hadn't been done in two centuries—he discovered a new pigment of blue.
Now, almost 12 years later, the pigment, called YInMn Blue, has hit the commercial market. It is available for the steep price of almost $179 an ounce.
Subramanian's lab discovered the new blue by accident. Subramanian, a materials scientist, and his students were trying to develop new materials for electronics. In an attempt to explore the properties of manganese oxide, the group superheated a mixture of the elements yttrium oxide, indium oxide and manganese oxide. What they pulled out of the 2,000-degree oven was a shocking, brilliant shade of blue.
Subramanian quickly realized the significance of what he and his students had found. Blue is an incredibly difficult pigment to derive. Unique pigments have structural properties that govern how light is reflected and absorbed.
Named for the elements it's composed from, YInMn Blue is characterized by high UV absorbance, near-infrared reflectivity, and an uncommon, pyramidlike molecular structure. The result is a blue much more luminous and chemically durable than any other blue previously discovered.
YInMn Blue was approved by the Environmental Protection Agency for industrial uses back in 2017, but it wasn't until May 2020 that it was approved for commercial use.
It's now made it to the market—though if you're hoping to paint with the pigment yourself, it'll cost you.
The chemical stability and UV absorbance that make YInMn so useful for industrial manufacturing—it can keep buildings cool and withstand much more weathering than other blues—mean that it's incredibly expensive to produce.
Maine's Italian Art Store, one of the pigment's few U.S. retailers, is selling tiny 1.4- ounce tubes of YInMn acrylic for $179, Smithsonian Magazine first reported. Golden, another U.S. paint manufacturer, is selling the pigment by customer order only.