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Dr. Mas Subramanian analyzing blue pigment in chemistry lab

Chemist awarded Perkin medal for novel blue pigment discovery

By Srila Nayak
Mas Subramanian, Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry

Mas Subramanian, Milton Harris Professor of Materials Science and Chemistry, was recently honored with the Perkin Medal, awarded by the Society of Dyers and Colorists (SDC), for his role in the “development of a novel blue pigment.”

The Perkin Medal is SDC’s most prestigious medal, “awarded for discoveries or other work of outstanding importance in relation to the tinctorial and allied industries.” Established in 1884, the SDC has awarded the Perkin Medal only a handful of times for extraordinary discoveries. SDC records dating back to the mid-sixties show that the Perkin Medal previously was awarded only a total of six times (including three times in 2005).

“I am much honored and humbled to be selected to receive the 2019 Perkin Medal for the YInMn blue pigment discovery from the Society of Dyers and Colorists,” said Subramanian. “It is very rewarding knowing that this medal is awarded by SDC only in exceptional circumstances.”

Named after British chemist William Henry Perkin, the international award honors his legacy. Perkin is best known for his accidental discovery of the first synthetic organic purple dye, mauveine, from aniline, which he was using to synthesize quinine for the treatment of malaria. Perkin’s discovery merged the worlds of science and industry as mauveine became one of the first dyes to be commercialized and mass produced in England during the height of the industrial revolution.

“As a chemist, I am thrilled to receive this medal, named after William Henry Perkin whose serendipitous discovery of the purple dye mauveine is somewhat akin to our YInMn blue pigment discovery,” said Subramanian.

Like Perkin, Subramanian discovered, purely by happenstance, the first inorganic blue pigment in more than 200 years. Heralded as the world’s most superior blue by experts, YInMn blue has become a global sensation, its origins as captivating as its luster. Subramanian and his graduate student were investigating multiferroic electronics for computer hardware, when they were surprised to see that the pulverized mixture of elements thrust into an oven came out as a brilliant shade of blue.

YInMn blue, so named for its composition from yttrium, indium oxide and manganese, was a stunning breakthrough that revolutionized the pigment research industry. Not just aesthetically pleasing, the radiant blue pigment is non-toxic, heat resistant, unfading and capable of absorbing ultraviolet radiation.

Once again like Perkin’s mauve, Subramanian’s fortuitous discovery has found wide commercial appeal and is revolutionizing the pigment and paints industry. YInMn blue was approved for commercial sale by the Environmental Protection Agency, paving the way for Shepherd Color Company to use the pigment, commercially known as Blue 10G513, in industrial coatings and plastics.

Subramanian will receive the Perkin Medal from the SDC President on May 10, 2019, in York, England.