Red, green, and blue light mixing to make white light, as well as yellow, magenta, and cyan. | Image: Wikimedia
White light is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. When light hits an object, a green balloon for example, all the colours are absorbed except for — in the case of the balloon — green. The green light hits our eyes, and we see the balloon as green.
Different compounds, chemicals, and materials absorb and reflect light in different ways. Analytical chemists can learn a lot about a material or compound from the colour it appears. This knowledge can also be used to make pigments and dyes of any colour imaginable by combining the compounds which make a certain colour; cyanide for example, was often used in blues, arsenic in greens.
The scientists in this zone are looking at all different aspects of colour chemistry; including using coloured beads to determine how much of a metal is present in a compound, growing nanomaterials and using them to generate electricty, and using lasers to look at pigments in ancient books. There are also scientists looking at fluorescent compounds as well as using them to look at blood and cancer cells.
The Colour Zone fits with the RSC’s 2014 theme of Art and Chemistry. These topics include how and why objects have colour, how we see colour, and how chemistry can be used to both create and investigate art. Perhaps there are some questions on the chemistry of colour that you want to ASK the scientists?