Pigment discovered by Oregon State chemist inspires a new Crayola crayon color

Based on an article by Steve Lundeberg.

A blue pigment discovered at Oregon State University by chemistry professor Mas Subramanian is the inspiration for Crayola’s new crayon color.

The 132-year old, Pennsylvania-based company had sparked a wave of emotions among children, parents and crayon fans across the country, when it retired Dandelion Yellow crayon from its classic 24 pack in March this year. Then on National Crayon Day, March 31,  2017, Crayola made the joyous announcement that the company was getting ready to introduce a new blue color in the blue hue family to replace dandelion yellow, but didn’t reveal the shade of blue. The current pack already contains “Blue,” “Cerulean,” and combinations of blue with violet and green.

This is only the first time in Crayola’s long history that it has retired a color from its 24 pack and the third time overall that it has bid adieu to one or more colors.

The suspense ended today for crayon enthusiasts, when Crayola announced that the YInMn pigment developed in the lab of Subramanian—a bright blue color and the first inorganic blue pigment in 200 years—would be the new blue crayon. Watch the video announcement!

YInMn refers to the elements yttrium, indium and manganese, which along with oxygen comprise the vibrant pigment.

Crayola made the announcement at The Colorful World of Pigments, an OSU-hosted celebration of YInMn blue and its impact on art, culture and industry.

“We are a company all about kids, creativity and color, so we strive to keep our color palette innovative and on trend, which is why we’re excited to introduce a new blue crayon color inspired by the YInMn pigment,” said Smith Holland, CEO and president of Crayola.

“The new blue crayon color will help Crayola to continue to inspire kids and kids at heart, to create everything imaginable.”

Subramanian, noting that people love the color blue for a wide variety of reasons, called it “truly an honor” that his discovery has inspired a new crayon color.

“Blue is associated with open spaces, freedom, intuition, imagination, expansiveness, inspiration and sensitivity,” he said. “Blue also represents meanings of depth, trust, loyalty, sincerity, wisdom, confidence, stability, faith, heaven and intelligence.”

“We could not imagine a better partner than Crayola, a brand synonymous with color and creativity, to help us share this discovery with the world.”

Crayola is inviting the public to help name the color of its new blue with a contest that kicks off today at Crayola.com/NewColor and runs through June 2. Those who submit name ideas will be entered for a chance to win one of four weekly prizes.

Crayola, Patrick Shuck

Crayola will unveil the new name and announce six grand prize winners in early September, and the new blue crayon will begin appearing in Crayola products in late 2017.

YInMn blue was discovered by accident in 2009 when Subramanian and his team were experimenting with new materials that could be used in electronics applications.

OSU Memorial Union painting using YInMn blue by art student Maddy Corbin.

The researchers mixed manganese oxide—which is black in color—with other chemicals and heated them in a furnace to nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. One of their samples turned out to be a vivid blue. Oregon State graduate student Andrew Smith initially made these samples to study their electrical properties.

“This was a serendipitous discovery, a happy accident,” Subramanian said. “But in fact, many breakthrough discoveries in science happen when one is not looking for it. As Louis Pasteur famously said, ‘In the fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.’

“Most pigments are discovered by chance,” Subramanian added. “The reason is because the origin of the color of a material depends not only on the chemical composition, but also on the intricate arrangement of atoms in the crystal structure. So someone has to make the material first, then study its crystal structure thoroughly to explain the color.”

YInMn blue features a unique 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—even in oil and water—that the color does not fade.

These characteristics, as well as its non-toxicity, 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.

“What is amazing is that through much of human history, civilizations around the world have sought inorganic compounds that could be used to paint things blue but often had limited success,” Subramanian said.

“Most had environmental and/or durability issues. The YInMn blue pigment is very stable/durable. There is no change in the color when exposed to high temperatures, water, and mildly acidic and alkali conditions.”

The Colorful World of Pigments event is part of a series known as SPARK: The Year of Arts and Science at OSU. The series explores the places where art and science intersect.

Hosted by the College of Science, the event included a discussion of color by a panel that featured Subramanian; Emily Henderson, designer, HGTV; Crayola CEO Smith Holland and Leena Vadaketh, director of product development at Crayola; Christopher Manning of the Shepherd Color Company, OSU’s licensing partner for the pigment; Kim Kenney, senior director of color design at Nike and OSU alumna; and Narayan Khandekar, the curator of Harvard University’s 2,500-specimen Forbes Pigment Collection, a scientific catalog of color that includes YInMn blue.

Subramanian also led tours of the lab where YInMn blue was discovered, and demonstrated how it was discovered. Kids of all ages participated in a community wall mural coloring activity in Giustina Gallery. An art exhibit  featured paintings made with YInMn blue by students and professional artists.

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