THE SPEC­TRUM OF SCIENCE

Focus-Science and Technology - - To Do List - JAMES LLOYD

WE’RE SUR­ROUNDED BY colour ev­ery day, but how of­ten do we ac­tu­ally stop to ap­pre­ci­ate it? In this new three-part se­ries, He­len Cz­er­ski takes a sci­en­tific look at the world of colour, re­veal­ing what it is, what it does and what it can tell us about the Uni­verse we live in.

The first episode re­veals how planet Earth be­came painted with colour. Take the deep, vi­brant blue of lapis lazuli, a semi-pre­cious stone that was forged by ge­o­log­i­cal pro­cesses in the belly of our planet. Re­nais­sance artists loved the colour so much that they ground it into ul­tra­ma­rine and used it in their mas­ter­pieces to paint the Vir­gin Mary’s robes. “Ev­ery time you look at one of those paint­ings, you’re look­ing at some­thing that came out of the mid­dle of a vol­cano,” says He­len.

Episode two is all about the colours of life. The nat­u­ral world is awash with colour, from the can­dyfloss pink of a flamingo to the suc­cu­lent or­ange of an apri­cot. In fact, if you want a healthy glow, you might want to re­plen­ish your fruit bowl. “Carotenoids are the red and yel­low pig­ments that make fruit and veg­eta­bles brightly coloured,” says He­len. “They ac­tu­ally give your face a yel­low­ish colour, and re­search has shown that peo­ple with this colour are rated as health­ier and more at­trac­tive.”

In the fi­nal episode, we go be­yond the rain­bow. We usu­ally see the world through a very small win­dow of the elec­tro­mag­netic spec­trum but, as He­len shows, we’re be­gin­ning to take ad­van­tage of the ‘invisible colours’ of­fered by ul­tra­vi­o­let and in­frared light. “I got to fly on SOFIA, which is a com­pletely bonkers air­craft owned by NASA,” she says. “It’s a mod­i­fied Boe­ing 747 that looks like it’s about to lay an egg.” That egg is, in fact, an in­frared tele­scope. The plane is flown 14km up into the strato­sphere, where there’s less wa­ter vapour to ab­sorb the in­frared light from dis­tant ce­les­tial ob­jects, en­abling as­tronomers to study things like plan­e­tary at­mos­pheres and col­lid­ing stars.

Colour: The Spec­trum Of Science is set to be a feast for the eyes and the mind. Colour us ex­cited!

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