Why is indigo blue?

R. M. Christie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Although the color of indigo is strongly dependent on its environment, it is blue in most commonly encountered situations. Indigo's absorption at such long wavelengths for such a small molecule is unique, and I provide here an overview of the concepts advanced to account for this feature. A traditional valence-bond approach may be used to provide a reasonable qualitative explanation. A more rigorous, quantitative explanation is provided by molecular orbital methods of varying degrees of sophistication and several explanations have been proposed based on these models. Commonly, it is suggested that the important structural unit in determining color is based on the cross-conjugated "H-chromophore" concept. A second closely related explanation describes it as two symmetrically coupled merocyanine chains. Another proposal suggests that the basic chromophore may be interpreted as the aza analogue of two coupled anti aromatic-cyclopentadienyl ions. PiSYSTEM, a commercially available quantum mechanics program, has been used to provide a successful quantitative account of the colors of indigo and indirubin, a red isomer.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-56
Number of pages6
JournalBiotechnic and Histochemistry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • Color
  • Indigo
  • Indirubin
  • Molecular orbital
  • Valence bond


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