The blending of art and science

When chemist Mas Subramanian and his team discovered a brilliant new blue pigment serendipitously, they were not thinking about creating art. But in a true art meets science moment, OSU applied visual arts major Madelaine Corbin is using the blue pigments in her artwork as part of an internship in Subramanian’s laboratory, her first foray into the world of chemistry.

The artist-turned-chemist is excited to make pigments by herself in the lab and then use them in her paintings.

OSU Memorial Union painting, by art student Maddy Corbin

OSU Memorial Union painting, by art student Maddy Corbin

“When Maddy approached me and expressed interested in making color pigments and using them in her artwork, I was very excited because Maddy is the first undergraduate non-science major who is interested in doing hands-on chemistry in our group,” said Subramanian.

“It is a rare ‘Art Meets Science’ moment where an art student wants to create something in our lab and use them in her artistic creations. Maddy is doing an outstanding job and she has made several color pigments in the lab and using in her paintings – for example – her beautiful painting of Memorial Union Façade.  She is a very dedicated student and fun to watch her how she mixes her artistic talents in her lab work.”

Maddy created a special painting featuring OSU’s Benny the Beaver in the lab using the blue pigments. Alumni attending the OSU State of the University address in Portland February 12 entered the drawing to win the painting.

Last spring I had the opportunity to meet Mas and hear about his work synthesizing inorganic pigments,” said Maddy.

“I was immediately interested, not only in the colors but the process as well. The subject matter of art is not typically art itself; instead it’s the other aspects of life that inform the work that’s made. This convergence of art and science fit perfectly with my multidisciplinary approach to art making and has led to an 8-month internship. 

“My time in the lab has already proven to be invaluable. I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the research, experience the lab community, and found unique inspiration for an upcoming project this spring.”

In Subramanian’s lectures on pigment chemistries, he discusses all the ways the pigments are being used and shows slides of paintings done by local artists who have used the pigments in their artwork. He has shared samples of the blue pigments with alumni and friends to use in art, specifically in their paintings.

Earlier this year, the vivid blue pigment, “YInMn” blue, found its way to industry when it was licensed to The Shepherd Color Company, where it will be used in a wide range of coatings and plastics. The pigment is formed by a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, while only reflecting blue. The vibrant blue is so durable, and its compounds are so stable that the color won’t fade.

These characteristics make the new pigment versatile for a variety of commercial products. Used in paints, for example, they can help keep buildings cool by reflecting infrared light. Best of all, none of the pigment’s ingredients are toxic.

Subramanian is the Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science in the Department of Chemistry. His original work was funded by the National Science Foundation.

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