In 2009, Mas Subramanian, a materials science professor at Oregon State University at Corvallis, accidentally created a new color. Called YInMn blue (pronounced YIN-min), the pigment was the first blue to be discovered in more than 200 years. As is the case with many historical discoveries, it was completely by accident. When Subramanian found YInMn, he “wasn’t looking for a pigment or even mixing ingredients thought capable of making a distinctive color,” according to Bloomberg. YInMn quickly attracted its fair share of media attention. “HP wanted to know if the pigment could be converted to an ink. Chanel was interested in it for cosmetics. Merck wondered about skincare. Nike was curious whether it could be used in sneaker leather to keep feet cool. With YInMn, Subramanian can create tones of green, orange, and even purple. But red? Red is his next discovery, and this time, Subramanian hopes, it won’t be by accident.
The world is in desperate need of a new red pigment. As Bloomberg reports, “We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.” In fact, more than 200 natural and synthetic reds exist, but each comes with its own set of baggage. With that in mind, Subramanian is on a mission to discover a “similarly safe, inorganic red derivative of YInMn—something that could put Ferrari red, which is worth an estimated $300 million annually, well in its rearview mirror.”
A new pigment of red can “generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually, affecting product categories from plastics to cosmetics to cars to construction.” Mark Ryan, marketing manager at Shepherd Color Co., believes that whoever discovers the next red pigment, thus contributing to the $30 billion dollar pigment industry, “wouldn’t have to come into work the next day.” To that, Subramanian chuckles, “I’d still come into work. I love what I do.”
For more on the world of color, go to Bloomberg.