Light Fantastic: the Science of Colour

Light fantastic is the Institute of Physics Schools and Colleges Lecture that was presented during 2007. The hour-long lecture is aimed at students aged 14 to 16 years but will also be of interest to older students.

The lecture illustrates the importance of light and colour. From observing and understanding the universe in astronomy to diagnosis and treatment in medicine. It looks at the basic concepts of light and colour and shows how technology is making the most of light's astonishing properties.

The show includes demonstrations and movie clips which help to explore the characteristics of electromagnetic radiation.

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This resource is part of Institute of Physics: Schools and Colleges Lecture Series

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Thanks to all concerned for a stimulating and informative presentation.

Here  are some illuminating remarks on color.


When a beam of light falls on the human eye, certain sensations are produced, from which the possessor of that organ judges of the color and luminance of the light. Now, though everyone experiences these sensations and though they are the foundation of all the phenomena of sight, yet, on account of their absolute simplicity, they are incapable of analysis, and can never become in themselves objects of thought. If we attempt to discover them, we must do so by artificial means and our reasonings on them must be guided by some theory.




[So] few and far between are the occasions for forming notions whose specialisations make up a continuous manifold, that the only simple notions whose specialisations form a multiply extended manifold are the positions of perceived objects and colors. More frequent occasions for the creation and development of these notions occur first in the higher mathematic.




Thus "this is red," "this is earlier than that," are atomic propositions.


~Russell & Whitehead


If you ask a physicist what is his idea of yellow light, he will tell you that it is transversal electromagnetic waves of wavelength in the neighborhood of 590 millimicrons. If you ask him: But where does yellow come in? he will say: In my picture not at all, but these kinds of vibrations, when they hit the retina of a healthy eye, give the person whose eye it is the sensation of yellow.




Thus the colors with their various qualities and intensities fulfill the axioms of vector geometry if addition is interpreted as mixing; consequently, projective geometry applies to the color qualities.