December 4th, 2009

krazy koati

He never done it before

Like any sensible orange-despising person I watch for news about breakthroughs in practical colors such as blue. It's usually a quiet watch, with only the occasional stranger approaching in the night for that classic routine where you ask who goes there, friend or foe, and the other party is confused as a result of not having heard the question clearly. Yet can you blame friend or foe? No, particularly not when something interesting comes up like a new blue.

I'd love to say I had some part in the discovery, but that would be a lie. More accurately I'd like to say I had some part in the discovery, but I'm all right with not having had any part in it. I did experiment with discovering new colors when I was younger and went to schools that left out boxes of crayons where just anyone could tear the wrapper off the interesting colors and leave behind as many as 56 Very Dark Colors Equally Likely To Be Navy Blue, Purple, Black, Or Any Other Color You Do Not Want Right Now in every group of sixteen crayons.

By combining these I determined that Yellow mixed with Blue produces Brown, while Red mixed with Blue produces Brown, and Carnation Pink mixed with White produces Brown. And yet Green mixed with Orange, Violet, and Yellow makes Brown. So I mostly discovered crayons are made of compressed brown. And so from this I nkew right away if someone had discovered a new blue it wasn't through trying out crayon combinations, because we already have a brown, and that's not blue. I could similarly rule out colored pencils, made of a less waxy compressed brown, and markers, made of damp compressed brown.

Still there are fortunes to be made in producing new colors, particularly in blue, which has always been in high demand thanks to its use in poetry. Since `blue' rhymes with both `you' and `do', it has been perceived as an active, intimate color that's going places and doing things ever since it was admitted to the English language in 1871. In contrast, for example, `red' rhymes mostly with `lead' and `dead', which is why its reputation as an inert and toxic color depresses its use. This fact leaves many red manufacturers feeling blue, and the irony of that makes it worse. Some take to feeling chartreuse out of pure spite, even though they think `chartreuse' might be a mountain range in eastern France, and French border inspectors are catching on.

It's not a surprise that the new blue was found my materials science researchers at Oregon State University. Oregon has lead in blue ever since 1947, when Prussian Blue --- so named because of its ability to undergo intervalence charge transfer --- was broken up and distributed among Poland, Lithuania, RCA, and the National League. The school appointed its first Cerulean Professor in 1952, and from 1960 to 1967 supported a Dean of Periwinkle. While that position was eliminated by the establishment of the School of Shades and Pigments its professors still edit three of the most important peer-reblued journals in the field.

And it's not surprising they skipped all the compressed-brown color sources like crayons and markers, or the leading faintly-grey-somehow color sources of computer screens. Instead they mixed up manganese oxide by confusing it with yttrium oxide and indium oxide, which when you think about it is the natural thing to do with all those oxides. They aren't going to whip up new colors left to themselves. They'd just sit there, oxidized, maybe trading stories about what they were like before they got into rare earth metals. Things seemed much clearer then.

More surprising to me and Dr Mas Subramanian, was they weren't trying to make a new blue at all. They were trying to come up with something that had some neat electronic properties. But thanks to the laws of crayolamagnetism, interesting electric thingies produce interesting color thingies and vice-versa, and before you know it, you have blue all over the lab. The big surprise is they went in hoping to prop up the ailing crayon industry by producing a new brown.

Trivia: Engineers for the Baltimore and Ohio railroad in 1828 proposed in a survey report laying stone rails in gravel-lined trenches, with wrought-iron plate rails fastened by rivets to the upper surfaces, but recommending wooden sleepers and rails for temporary constructions. Source: The Railroad And The Space Program: An Exploration In Historical Analogy, Editor Bruce Mazlish.

Currently Reading: Options, Robert Sheckley. Ah, it's going to hold me down and pummel me with zany.