Sunday, May 9, 2021

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt
6/22/21; 224 pages
The Experiment

Blue: In Search of Nature's Rarest Color by Kai Kupferschmidt is a very highly recommended well-balanced historical, societal, and scientific examination of the color blue.

The color blue is special. It is the favorite color of many people. We see it in the sky and the ocean. Blue is unique in nature and causes pause and awe when we discovered it by happenstance in rocks, birds, and flowers. It is captured in art and crafts but it is also a rare color in the natural world. The color blue and how we see it can be explained through physics, chemistry, and biology, but our reaction to it is personal. Kupferschmidt sets out in Blue to explain the color through science, but also follow the historical and natural appearance of the color. The art world has long searched for a blue pigment to use in painting. 

True blue is rare. Ancient Egyptians perfected the first blue ceramic glaze and it was revered. Civilizations have continually looked for a source of the color blue. Interestingly enough, Kupferschmidt first introduces us to chemist Mas Subramanian, a chemist who in 2009 created the first new blue pigment in 200 years. The color was immediately lauded by industries and artists. It is called "Yin Min" based on its components: yttrium oxide, indium oxide, and manganese oxide. There have been other discoveries of blue, for example indigo from India and Prussian blue which is also a created pigment.

Kupferschmidt covers the world in his quest to find blue, follow the various uses of blue in societies, and explain scientifically the how and why of the color. The chemistry of blue and the various ways people have tried to create it is covered. He also follows how humans versus other animals see blue biologically. And then there is the long quest to develop a blue rose.

If you enjoy excellent scientific writing, you will relish this book. The photographs are gorgeous. (My review edition didn't have color photos and I immediately went online to find photos to see everything blue mentioned. The photos make an excellent case to buy a copy of the book.) There is a table of blues and where they occur in animal, vegetable and mineral. What made my heart beat faster was the fact that: "While we’ve been up here on the planet’s surface, doing everything we can for thousands of years to produce new blue pigments from Earth’s minerals, there is - below our feet, unimaginable and inaccessible - a gigantic reservoir of blue stone." What a wonderful, awe-inspiring fact. Originally published in Germany as Blau, the English edition was translated by Mike Mitchell.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The Experiment in exchange for my honest opinion.

No comments: