Audacious Fox

Zach Schonbrun, Bloomberg, has written a fascinating profile about the pigment research of Mas Subramanian, a materials science professor at Oregon State University. Mr. Subramanian is best known for his accidental creation of YInMn—a striking blue pigment with the ability to generate many other hues. However, although YInMn is widely lauded, Mr. Subramanian has yet to find a way to coax his pigment into a resilient, radiant red; a color that could be worth hundred of millions of dollars. Mr. Schonbrun:

The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has. We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat. […]

Subramanian, more scientist than chief executive, is now hunting for a similarly safe, inorganic red derivative of YInMn—something that could put Ferrari red, which is worth an estimated $300 million annually, well in its rearview mirror. Mark Ryan, marketing manager at Shepherd Color Co. in Cincinnati, says whoever finds such a red “wouldn’t have to come into work the next day.”

Color me fascinated.