Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Physics: What color is it really?

This week we did 3 mini-experiments to investigate how we perceive color. The first was with spinning color wheels. The kids compared the patterns of the discs when still to the patterns they saw when the discs were spun. The second mini-experiment involved looking at magazine pictures under the microscope and comparing the images seen with the naked eye to the colors seen at greater magnification. The third was simply giving each kid some red, blue, and yellow paint and letting them go wild...well on paper anyway.

When we physically combine red, blue, and yellow paints in different proportions we can create an enormous range of colors. Similarly the human brain will combine colors that your eyes see when those 2 colors are seen in rapid succession, as in the case of the spinning color wheels or when they are placed very close together, as revealed by a microscopic examination of pictures from a magazine. What is especially cool about the magazine pictures is that no matter what color you "see," when examined under the microscope you realize that the image is made up of just 3 colors: magenta, cyan, and yellow (aka red, blue, and yellow). By producing images that include different ratios of the primary colors, you can get just about any color.

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