The science and technology of the color blue

I did not know that “blue” is an active area of research. I learned this from a tweet by John Hagel, where he references an article, The History of the Color Blue.

Now I wanted to know more. In particular, I was curious to see if “blue R&D” is all about making the color as such, different shades etc. — or if there are perhaps some unexpected and surprising things as well. You guessed it; yes, there are, otherwise I would not have written this post.

There are a number of different ways in which one can search for “unexpected and surprising” things in Mergeflow. I chose to use Mergeflow Spotlights. Spotlights are emerging or otherwise (at least to us) interesting developments across industries and technologies. They range from A, as in “aerogels”, to Z, as in “zero-energy buildings”. By now, our team has created about 200 such Spotlights.

I used a script (= some software code) to find overlaps between the topic “blue pigments” on the one hand, and our Spotlights on the other hand. Below are my favorite findings, which I hope you will enjoy reading.

Energy Storage

Mergeflow showed some overlaps between “blue pigments” and our Spotlights on “battery technology” and “grid energy storage”. For example, the Stanford spin-out Natron Energy uses a combination of Prussian Blue pigment electrodes and a sodium-ion electrolyte to store energy. Their investors include Chevron and Khosla Ventures, and EDF (Électricité De France) is testing Natron Energy’s technology for grid storage applications.

Solar Energy

Another overlapping Mergeflow Spotlight was “solar energy”. Turns out that certain blue pigments have very interesting light harvesting properties. This could be used to improve the efficiency of solar cells (cf. this paper). And the oldest known synthetic blue pigment, Egyptian Blue, may be used to make sunlight-reflecting (and thus power-saving) roofs. Egyptian Blue could also be integrated in window glass, where it could absorb visible light and emit it as near-infrared light to photovoltaic cells sitting at the edges of a window. Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Shepherd Color Company, and PPG have published this in this paper.

Immunotherapy

“Immunotherapy” was another Mergeflow Spotlight where “blue pigments” play a role. In addition to energy storage (cf. above), Prussian Blue may help in certain cancer immunotherapies. Rohan Fernandes and his team from George Washington University is investigating whether Prussian Blue can help turn non-responsive tumors into therapy-responsive tumors. You can find more details about this project, funded by the NIH National Cancer Institute, here.

Inflammation Sensing

“We’d like to develop a home inflammation test where a person prone to colitis flare-ups would eat yogurt that contained the engineered bacteria and see blue pigment in the toilet if they were sick”.

says Jeffrey Tabor, Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University. A team involving Tabor, Kristina Daeffler, Jeff Galley, Ravi Sheth, Laura Ortiz-Velez, Christopher Bibb, Robert Britton, and Noah Shroyer are engineering bacteria that can sense inflammation in the gut. The bacteria produce a fluorescent protein, which may be replaced by a colored-pigment-making enzyme. A paper describing the research is here.

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