Physics KS3 / GCSE: How light makes the colours we see

Jon Chase is at Leeds College of Art.

The art students here know a thing or two about colour, so they’re taking part in an experiment.

Can they work out what happens when light reflects off paints of different colours?

One team of students paints the words RED, GREEN, and BLUE, in each of the colours, red, green and blue.

The other team has to work out which one is painted in its correct colour. Not so easy when you can only see them in black and white.

It’s to do with differential reflection – which colours are absorbed, and which are reflected.In the studio, Jon makes white light by mixing different colours.

He reveals some amazing art from Italy that uses the rules of colour reflection to paint three different images on the same piece of paper.

This clip is from the series Wave World.

Teacher Notes

Key Stage 3

When teaching about colours and the different frequencies of light, this clip could be used to check pupils' understanding of the differential reflection and absorption of light by different coloured objects.

Teachers could freeze the film at relevant points and take feedback from pupils.

Pupils could then be asked to design a set and costumes to illustrate a particular special effect on stage using coloured light.

Pupils should know the names of the primary and secondary colours of light.

Teachers could link the science to careers eg. of lighting technicians and fashion designers.

Curriculum Notes

This clips is relevant for teaching Physics at KS3 or KS4 and National 4/5.

This appears in AQA, OCR, EDEXCEL, WJEC GCSE in England and Wales, CCEA GCSE in Northern Ireland and SQA National 5 in Scotland.