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GEK1532: Color and Vision

Thorsten Wohland Dep. Of Chemistry S8-03-06 Tel.: 6516 1248 E-mail:

Goals of the course

Understanding of color Basic understanding of how senses work
A) on a macroscopic level (example eye) B) on a microscopic level (cell) C) on a molecular level (proteins) D) on a neurological level (brain) E) on a psychological level (illusions) F) on a philosophical level (implications)

About 22 lectures and tutorials Lecturer is on conference leave in the week of February 22
Midterm will be held on February 22 On Feb 25 a tutorial will be held

There will be 2 short quizzes (MCQ) as CA in class Discussion Forum (participation can lead to upgrading; no fixed percentage of mark) Final will be MCQ (2/3) and questions (1/3)

Start of lecture? Break?

When do we start? Are there any transport problems? Do you want a break?

Some issues
Switch mobile phones off during lectures. If you come late or go early do that noiselessly. In the discussion forum stick to the topics. Participate actively. If you have questions: ASK!

1. The physics and chemistry of color : the fifteen causes of color / Kurt Nassau. 2. Light science : physics and the visual arts / Thomas D. Rossing, Christopher Chiaverina. 3. Anatomy & physiology / Rod R. Seeley, Trent D. Stephens, Philip Tate. 4. Seeing the light : optics in nature, photography, color, vision, and holography / David S. Falk, Dieter R. Brill, David G. Stork. 5. Color vision : perspectives from different disciplines / editors Werner G.K. Backhaus, Reinhold Kliegl, John S. Werner. Berlin ; New York : Walter de Gruyter, 1998 6. Light vision color / Arne Valberg. 7. Light and color in the outdoors / Marcel Minnaert ; translated and revised by Len Seymour. 8. Number by colors : a guide to using color to understand technical data / Brand Fortner, Theodore E. Meyer. 9. In the blink of an eye: how vision kick-started the big bang of evolution, Andrew parker 10. Thinks , David Lodge 11. Sensation and perception, 7th edition / E. Bruce Goldstein


Why is color useful?

What is color?

Is it a property of light?

Is it a property of objects?

Is it a property of our brain? How is it then possible that some people see color differently (color deficient people), or do blind people know color?

Is it a property determined by our cultural background?

Meaning of a color in different cultures, some examples: China: luck India: purity (in Western cultures purity is often blue) Western: love

China: sacred, imperial (royalty in Western cultures is purple) Western: cowardice, deceit, betrayal, jealousy, dishonesty Germany: loyalty US: depression India: Color of Krishna China: immortality, seriousness

Is it a property determined by our language?

Color words in languages develop in a specific order and often reflect the connections between colors. Some languages have only the words for black/dark and white/light: Dugerm Dani (New Guinea) Some languages have words for all basic colors: Zuni (USA) Some languages are in between these two extremes: Mandarin (China) There is no generic word for orange, but the word is derived from the fruit.

Is it a property determined by our language?


Nature 398, 203 - 204 (1999); hue (horizontal axis) against lightness (vertical axis).

Lets ask what is necessary to perceive color

Light as the medium that transfers information to us (light source) An object which interacts with the light and changes its characteristics (wavelength, intensity) and is thus perceived Eyes that act as a sensor for light (intensity and some wavelength discrimination) The brain that interprets the signal detected by the eyes and leads to the perception of the color and object

It turns out that every single aspect here has an influence on the color seen and color is not simply characterized by any one of them alone!

What are essential properties of colors?

Spectral colors Saturation, hue, brightness Complementarity

Newtons experiment
1643-1727: Newton used a prism to decompose sunlight in its parts. He founded a color theory and made the first color circle to order colors.

Colors obtained by passing white light through a prism are the so-called spectral hues or colors in the pure spectrum. More colors can be produced by mixing these colors with white (ex.: red+white > pink). All these colors are said to have the same hue but different saturation (sometimes called chroma or purity).

Spectral colors

400 nm

500 nm

600 nm

700 nm

Some color fundamentals

Hue: This is the dominant saturated color.

Brightness (luminous intensity or luminous emittance, shade):

Saturation (chroma or purity, tint): The extend to which the color is pure or has white mixed in.

Complementary Colors

Complementary Colors

Complementary Colors

Sky: blue

Complementary Colors in Architecture

Grass: green Blue/Yellow


How is color produced?

What are physical ways to produce color? What are chemical reasons for color? What are biological reasons for color?

What are physical ways to produce color?

Light: electromagnetic waves

The sun (color temperature)

Blue sky (scattering)

Pictures from HyperPhysics by Rod Nave

Rainbows (refraction and reflection)

Chemical Reasons
Dyes and pigments

562 nm emission

664 nm emission

~770 nm emission

Biological color

How is color classified?

L.C. Thomas, Fig. 3.7 projekte/Grafik/19max/01max.htm

How is color perceived?

The role of the eye (lense) in producing images. The retina and its color sensitive elements. Nerve cells and their function and connections. The role of the brain in color perception.

The eye
Comparison to camera

HyperPhysics by Rod Nave

The retina and its color sensitive elements.

Backhaus, Fig. 5.3

The role of nerve cells and the brain in color perception

What are cultural and linguistic determinants of color?

What are differences of color naming in different languages? Are there general principles how languages develop color names? How much influence has our cultural background on our color perception?

Some questions to ponder

What is color? Do different people see different colors? And is there an objective way to find out? What meaning has color in your culture? Why is color important? Why did color perception evolve? Has color acquired other meanings today?