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The story of pigments and dyes

A chemist's palette

Pigments and dyes are vital in producing vibrancy and changing colours in our surroundings. Their vast use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, inks and textiles makes them important in playing a crucial role in creating the colourful world we see around us. But how do they come into existence?


It all started from the extraction of colours from the world around us, such as green chlorophyll found in leaves and reds from berries. They were used to decorate caves and clothes in early civilization. However, when synthetic dyes came into play in the 19th century, things took an advance. Mauveine was accidentally discovered by William Henry Perkin; its vivid purple colour proved that we could make complicated organic substances from simpler ones, challenging the idea that organic compounds could only come from living things or nature.


How does chemistry relate to the colours produced? Well, the way molecules are built fundamentally decides what colours are visible. In summary, the colours we see are a result of electrons in atoms and molecules absorbing and then releasing energy in the form of light. The specific colours are determined by the amount of energy released and the unique arrangement of electrons in each substance.


In chemistry, pigments and dyes are used in various applications such as indicators in chemical reactions, chromatography, photovoltaic cells and most commonly in titration. They enable researchers to explore chemical processes and analyse substances.


However, there are many environmental concerns regarding synthetic dyes, with pollution and water contamination. Synthetic dyes may also contain chemicals and additives that are toxic to aquatic life, posing risks to the environment. To address these issues, regulations, research into eco-friendly alternatives, sustainable practices, and educating people on this is important.


In essence, we are constantly reminded of the evolving relationship between colours and chemistry. In the future, as more materials change colours and new uses are discovered, chemists will continue to be fascinated by the endless possibilities.



Written by Anam Ahmed

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