BERKELEY, Calif. There are no windows in the underground laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley’s Hildebrand Hall. No portals through which to see the sky. The bluest things in sight are the cobalt-colored lab coats worn by two chemists huddled around a beaker of white viscous liquid, its temperature slowly climbing.
On a Monday afternoon in August, the blue-coat technicians watched the liquid with a spellbound intensity. Their resident leader, a woman named Olga Alexopoulou, was positioned in an adjacent room the size of a small walk-in closet, illuminated only by the phantom glow of ultraviolet light.
Inside, she slowly peeled back a sheet of aluminum foil to reveal four glass microscope slides, a globule of liquid the size of a thumbprint on each. Like alien droppings, they glowed underneath the UV bulbs with a cinematic ferocity.
“The average person has never seen this kind of purity of color,” Alexopoulou told me.
Alexopoulou isn’t a scientist. She’s an artist. But, inside the tiny lab in Berkeley, shaded from the unceasing clamor of the world outside, she and her methodologically-inclined counterparts are on the same curious quest: They are attempting to engineer a new pigment of blue.
Over the course of 10 months, Alexopoulou has project-managed her secretive team from Istanbul, communicating through email and Skype to check up on the mysterious liquid. According to Alexopoulou, the blue she’s after is different than all the man-made blues that have come before it. Hers is “the blue of the future,” a pigment that dazzles in its sheer purity and depth, emitting a radiance more often associated with neon lights than the contents of a tube of paint.
With an undeniable weight of seriousness, Alexopoulou has dubbed her pigment Quantum Blue.
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