Monday 23rd October

From rainbows to tiger stripes – the amazing science of colours

Our entire lives are full of colour. We learn what colours are called at a very young age and many of us have a favourite colour. But how much do you truly know about the science behind colours?

MOODS AND COLOURS

Gone are the days where we used to sit in the school yard, stare down at the mood ring on our finger and wait for it to change colour so we could discover how we were feeling at that time. When we think of red we can associate it with the two opposite ends of the feeling spectrum of both love and anger, whilst blue represents a calm and relaxed nature.

Colours not only tell us a lot about our moods and personalities, they even help us determine what we feel like eating. Research has shown that colours such as red and yellow are most likely to trigger our appetite, hence fast food giants such as McDonalds, KFC and many other popular restaurants and food/drink companies like Coca Cola use this colour scheme.

RAINBOWS

Until the 1600s, people didn’t know how a rainbow formed and “what it was made of”. Then came along a man named Isaac Newton who discovered the seven spectra of light which we call the rainbow. It was only science that saw the seven colours. People once thought there were only five. Chinese cultures still claim that there are only five colours in a rainbow.

As we were taught in science class at school, a rainbow is created due to the bending of light, also known as refraction. However, reflection also plays an important role in rainbow formation as the light is refracted as it enters the raindrop, then reflected inside the drop and again refracted as it goes out of the drop.

When light passes through a raindrop, it creates a rainbow within itself. But it is so small that we can’t see it. So, when the light passes through millions of raindrops, all together it makes a visible rainbow which we can see with the naked eye.

Rainbows also form a full circle of seven colours, not a semi circle. Only if you are high up, such as on a plane, you can see the entire circle of the rainbow. So there goes the old pot of gold tale as there is no “end of the rainbow”.

You may also notice when you look at a rainbow, you can see some visible difference between the sky above the rainbow and the sky below the rainbow. The sky above the rainbow will appear to be less bright than the sky below the rainbow. This is due to the light being bent towards the ground from the sun.

Have you ever noticed a rainbow appears usually in the morning and evening but not in the middle of the day? This is because to create a rainbow the light should strike a rain drop at exactly 42 degrees so it’s impossible to create a rainbow when the sun is in the centre of the sky.

Want to make easy money? Then go to the rainbow’s end where you can find a pot of gold. This myth originated somewhere near old Europe. In Silesia, a region in Eastern Europe, it was said that the gold at rainbow’s end was place by angels and it could be obtained only by a nude man. Think about running naked!

PLANTS

Just like the eternal question between the egg and the chicken, the orange shares the same mystery. But according to studies, the word “orange” appears in the English language as early as the 13th century referring to the fruit. The colour orange was initially called Geoluhread which means yellow-red. On a related note, it is widely accepted that there is no single English word that is a true rhyme for orange.

HOW WE SEE COLOURS

According to various studies around the world, the most popular choice for favourite colour is blue. Based on the survey conducted by several global marketing firms, they saw that people worldwide picked blue as their favourite colour followed by purple, red and green as a close second and third respectively. White, orange, and yellow are some of the least favourite colours.

Studies have shown that babies as young as 2 weeks of age can distinguish the colour red. Probably because red has the longest wavelength among colours making it the easiest colour to process by the early development receptors and nerves in the baby’s eyes.

There’s also a difference between how men and women see colours. Woman can see colour details much clearer. While a woman sees crimson, burgundy, and tomato red, a man will just see red. Researchers from Arizona State University in the US have stated there is a gene that allows us to see the colour red and that gene sits on the X chromosome. As women have two X chromosomes and so therefore two copies of this gene, compared with only one for men - the gene helps women to perceive the red-orange colour spectrum much clearer. Men are supposedly better at recognising fine details in a moving object.

Recent discovery also shows that colours affect the way we taste foods. For instance, an orange or creme-coloured cup definitely makes chocolate taste better than in any other cup with a different colour.

Colours can also help if you’re having a hard time recalling a scene from an old black and white movie or notes that were written using black pen and white papers, maybe the colour (or the lack of it ) has something to do with it. Psychologists have found that people are likely to recall a coloured version of an image compared to a black and white version of it. They believe this is because colour has a stronger appeal to the senses, resulting into better connection in parts that have to do with memory.

CARS

When it comes to choosing colours, the colour of your new car would be one of the hardest. Some people think red cars go faster (especially Italians and Ferrari owners!) while some people avoid black because they’re too hard to keep clean. However, the first man to build cars to be affordable was Henry Ford of Ford Motor Company fame. He made that decision easy for buyers. As Ford said, “you can have any colour you wish. As long as it’s black”. So all Model T Fords were painted black as it kept costs down and build times low on his production lines.

In modern times, we can buy cars in just about any colour we please. If you want to avoid accidents, apparently white is your choice. Studies show this is the safest car colour as it is easily visible under all conditions except in snow. Lime-yellow is the most visible colour on the road, so if you really want to stand out, go for the citrus look. Silver is one of the most dangerous colours to get due to it being harder to see during heavy rains and fog. Though turning your lights on is a great way of avoiding that!

ANIMALS

Why are animals coloured like they are? Well mostly that’s due to evolution and them adapting to their surroundings over millions (or in cases of animals like crocodiles billions) of years. For most animals, the colours they have evolved into is due to one or possibly two reasons; it helped them to not be killed or it helped them kill to eat. With the changes of the earth over time such as the formations of land, the ice age and more recently the evolution of the homosapien (man as we know it has only been around for about 200,000 years while the age of the earth is in the several billions). For example, a tiger (panthera tigris) which is mostly found in the plains of India and Asia has evolved from other cat species to form black stripes on a dark orange fur. This allows them to be camouflaged in the long dry grass and therefore sneak up on prey. Its early ancestor was the saber tooth cat, which was around in the ice age. Of those that migrated to those parts of the Asian continent, only the offspring who had the colouring that helped them hunt would have survived and therefore produced the most offspring. A similar story can be said for other animals like the white polar bear in the Antarctic or green frogs in rainforests.

An interest fact, well fiction, about animals is bulls being spooked by the colour red. So bullfighters could wave material of any colour at a bull and it’s just as likely to have the same reaction.

CELEBRATIONS

Various holidays around the world have been linked to colours. For example, Christmas in western culture sees red and green matched together. The holly plant, which is green with red berries, has been associated with the winter solstice (which in the northern hemisphere is also late December and some believe this is the reason Jesus’ birthdate has become known as December 25th when it isn’t actually stated in the bible but rather matches similar celebrations in Pagan history which pre-dates Christianity) long before the time Jesus was believed to have been born.

However, it was only in the 20th century that Santa started wearing only bright red. This was in fact thanks to the world’s most well-known red logo brand, Coca Cola. Coke released a colour ad featuring old Saint Nicholas as a big ‘jolly fat man’ in a red outfit. From then on, the western world depicted him in this way.

Holi is a Hindu spring festival celebrated in the nations of India and Nepal and is also known as the "festival of colours". The festival signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, end of winter and people cover each other in brightly coloured powders. It lasts for a night and a day, starting on the evening of the Purnima (Full Moon day) falling in the Vikram Samvat Hindu Calendar month of Phalguna (between the end of February and the middle of March in the Gregorian calendar). The first evening is known as Holika Dahan or Chhoti Holi and the following day as Holi, Rangwali Holi, Dhuleti, Dhulandi, or Phagwah.

Holi is an ancient Hindu religious festival which has become popular with non-Hindus in many parts of South Asia, as well as people of other backgrounds outside Asia possibly due to the happy nature of the festival. In recent years, the festival has spread to parts of Europe and North America as a spring celebration of love, frolic, and colours.

10 FACTS ABOUT THE COLOUR PINK

Of course with October's pink month at Lantern Club, we had to dedicate some words to the beloved colour:

1. The colour pink takes its name from the flower called a pink.
2. Why the flower was called a pink is unknown, however the Oxford Dictionary suggests it may be linked with the use of ‘pink’ for a small, half-closed eye.
3. The singer/songwriter P!nk (pronounced Pink) was born Alecia Beth Moore and took her name from Mr Pink in the film Reservoir Dogs.
4. Romeo and Juliet and Antony and Cleopatra are Shakespeare’s only writings to have used the word ‘pink’.
5. In 1989, Pink Floyd’s album Delicate Sound Of Thunder was the first rock record played in outer space.
6. Pink is a mixture of red and white.
7. Adélie penguins have pink feet while Gentoo penguins have pink droppings.
8. The composer Richard Wagner liked to wear pink silk underwear.
9. In 2013, a diamond called Pink Star sold for £52million, a record price for a gemstone.
10. Pink is the palliative colour meaning it suppresses anger and anxiety due to its calming effect. That is why prisons and mental health care institutions paint their walls pink to control the behaviour of those out-of-control prisoners and patients. In 1989, police in Huddersfield, England reported that research had shown that violent criminals could be calmed down by putting them in pink cells. Prisons around the world have followed suit.

COME HELP US CELEBRATE PINK MONTH

Every October, Lantern Club turns pink to help raise funds and awareness of the importance of breast screening in our community in conjunction with BreastScreen NSW.

On Tuesday, October 31 we will hold our annual Pink Fundraiser Dinner. This event will be hosted by Darren Carr with live entertainment, raffles, gifts and spectacular dishes from our MàZi chefs. To book tickets click here.

For updates on events for Lantern Club Shines Pink, click here.