The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Mas Subramanian Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

September 30, 2015


Munirpallam Appadorai ("Mas") Subramanian was born in Madras, India in 1953. Subramanian's interest in science was sparked by a childhood fascination with minerals, and was furthered by regular visits to libraries at local embassies as well as the United States Information System facility in Madras. While still living at home with his parents, Subramanian attended the University of Madras for six years, from 1970 to 1976, during which time he earned bachelor's and master's degrees in Chemistry. For his master's thesis, Subramanian conducted analyses of various minerals and alloy compounds, work which reflected the strengths of the lab to which he had been assigned.

From there, Subramanian was accepted into the Madras branch of the highly competitive Indian Institute of Technology, where he pursued his Ph.D. As a doctoral candidate studying under G.V. Subba Rao, Subramanian first began to investigate pyrochlores, a class of minerals with which Subramanian would eventually come to be internationally associated. A 150-page review article on pyrochlores that Subramanian authored in 1982 - and that subsequently served as the introduction to his dissertation - was published as a single issue of the journal Progress in Solid State Chemistry, and has since been cited more than 1,500 times.

After completing his Chemistry doctorate in 1982, Subramanian moved to the United States, where he had been offered a post-doctoral fellowship at Texas A&M University. Working in the laboratory of Dr. Abraham Clearfield, Subramanian conducted research on the use of zirconium phosphate in batteries. It was during this period of time that Subramanian met Dr. Arthur Sleight, a chemist at Oregon State University who was also affiliated with the DuPont Company. Sleight was familiar with Subramanian's work, and he ultimately offered to find a research position for Subramanian at the company. Thus began a busy and extremely fruitful twenty-two year period during which Subramanian published more than 200 papers and secured some 50 patents stemming from investigations on a wide array of topics. This eclectic research program included breakthroughs related to magnetic materials for spin electronics; thermoelectrics for power generation; high temperature superconductors; and greener synthetic routes for fluoro-organics.

In 2004, Arthur Sleight intimated to Subramanian that he was close to retiring from his position at OSU, and, in 2006, Subramanian was hired into the Milton Harris Chair of Materials Science, an endowed chair in OSU's Chemistry department that had been first occupied by Sleight. After spending a year setting up his laboratory, Subramanian focused on advancing some of his DuPont research on spin electronics and multiferroics.

In 2009, Subramanian's research program shifted dramatically when one of his graduate students accidentally synthesized a new form of blue pigment while working with the compounds yttrium indium oxide and yttrium manganese oxide. Historically, blue pigments have been very difficult to create. The Subramanian lab compound also proved to be non-toxic and far more heat reflective than are traditional blue colorants. Likewise, by manipulating the crystal structure of their original compound, the laboratory found that it was able to create tints matching the near entirety of the color spectrum.

During his tenure at OSU, Subramanian has also been closely involved with the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI), a public/private partnership that aims to nurture innovation and research statewide. The recipient of numerous awards, Subramanian is the editor of two journals in solid state chemistry and served as chair of the 2010 Gordon Research Conference on Solid State Chemistry.