Meet the Blue Crew, Scientists Trying to Give Food, Flowers, and More a Color Rarely Found in Nature

CORVALLIS, OREGON—Mas Subramanian’s most celebrated discovery came out of the blue.

As a solid state chemist at the chemical giant Dupont, Subramanian had put his name on hundreds of publications and dozens of patents. He identified a new superconductor and found a more environmentally friendly route to produce the chemical fluorobenzene. When he left the company to work at Oregon State University here in 2006, he set out to develop a multiferroic, a material with a combination of electronic and magnetic properties that could lead to faster computers.

Following one of Subramanian’s ideas, graduate student Andrew Smith one day mixed indium oxide, manganese oxide, and yttrium oxide and heated the mixture in the oven. The resulting material, it turned out, didn’t have any special magnetic or electric properties. It was just very blue.

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