The researchers said the ancient Egyptians, the Han dynasty in China, Mayan cultures and other people around the world have, for thousands of years, sought inorganic compounds that can be used to paint things blue. But most of what was discovered had environmental or durability drawbacks.
Now Oregon State University chemists, led by Professor Mas Subramanian, say they've discovered new compounds based on manganese that should address all such concerns.
"Basically, this was an accidental discovery," said Subramanian. "We were exploring manganese oxides for some interesting electronic properties they have, something that can be both ferroelectric and ferromagnetic at the same time. Our work had nothing to do with looking for a pigment.
"Then one day a graduate student who is working in the project was taking samples out of a very hot furnace while I was walking by, and it was blue, a very beautiful blue. I realized immediately that something amazing had happened."
What had happened, the researchers said, was that at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit the otherwise innocuous manganese oxide turned into a vivid blue compound that could be used to make a pigment resistant heat and acid, be environmentally benign and cheap to produce from a readily available mineral.
The research appears in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.