THE SPECTRUM OF SCIENCE
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!