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Absorb Physics for GCSE by David Fairhurst
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Colours of Light
Introduction

When sunlight passes through a raindrop, it is separated into individual colours and we see a beautiful rainbow. Within the rainbow are the three primary colours of light: red, green, and blue. By mixing these colours together, you can make any colour at all, including the secondary colours and white light.
Splitting white light
Light can behave as a wave. The different colours of light all travel at the same
speed
Speed is a measure of how fast something is moving. It is calculated by dividing the distance travelled by the time taken.
speed
in a vacuum, but have slightly different wavelengths. What does this mean about the
frequency
In general, the frequency of an event describes how often it occurs. When talking about waves, the frequency is a measure of how many waves go past a fixed point in a given time.
frequency
of colours? Think about the equation for the
speed
Speed is a measure of how fast something is moving. It is calculated by dividing the distance travelled by the time taken.
speed
of a wave.

Do different colours of light have the same frequency?
 
Yes
No
 


When light travels through glass, the different colours travel at slightly different speeds. Because of this, a glass prism can separate white light into all the colours of the rainbow.


Click on the figure below to interact with the model.

 Figure 1.  White light is split by a prism.



In Fig.1 above, click on the torch and drag it so that it shines into the prism.

Which colour light is bent the most by the prism in Fig.1?
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Red
Yellow
Green
Violet
 


Isaac Newton was the first person to do this experiment. Nature, however, did it long before him. Raindrops behave similarly to the prism and split sunlight to create rainbows. Although people often say there are seven colours in the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) there are actually many more. Newton decided on seven when he first split white light.

Newton also realized that the colours can be put back together again to make white light. He built a disc with seven coloured segments on it. Find out what happens when you spin it quickly.

Figure 2.  Newton's disc. Click on the disc to change how fast it spins.
Primary colours
Red, blue, and green are the three
primary colours
The primary colours of light are red, green, and blue. You can make any other colour of light by mixing together the right amounts of the primary colours. White light is made by mixing equal amounts of all three primary colours.
primary colours
. Use the three torches in Fig.3 below to investigate what happens when you mix all three primary colours together.


Click on the figure below to interact with the model.

 Figure 3.  Primary colour beams.Boots Bunker Brown Ct4 Women’s Cognac qgnfXwUxH



Click and drag the torches in Fig.3 to move them. Click and drag the circles that appear to rotate them.

Move and rotate the torches so that the beams all overlap at one point.

What colour do you get when red, green, and blue are combined?
 
Yellow
Blue
White
Black
 


White light is made by combining all three primary colours.

Secondary colours
When two primary colours are mixed together, they form a secondary colour. The three
secondary colours
Secondary colours are made by choosing two of the primary colours and combining them equally. The three secondary colours are cyan, magenta, and yellow.
secondary colours
are: magenta (a pinky purple colour), yellow, and cyan (light blue). Use the torches on the right in Fig.4 to create secondary colours for yourself.


Click on the figure below to interact with the model.
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 Figure 4.  The three secondary colours (from top to bottom) are cyan, magenta and yellow. Can you make the three colours using the primary colours on the right?

Which secondary colour do you get by mixing red and blue?
 
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Now try mixing green and red.

Fill in the empty cell in the table with the secondary colour you get.
 




Finally, try mixing blue and green.

Complete the table with the final secondary colour.
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Primary Primary Secondary
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Green Red Yellow
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Complementary colours
If two colours combine to form white light, they are called
complementary colours
If two coloured lights combine to form white light, then they are known as complementary colours. For example, blue and yellow are complementary colours.
complementary colours
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Move the primary colour torches in Fig.5 so that they point into a secondary colour beam.


Click on the figure below to interact with the model.

 Figure 5.  Complementary colours.

Select the complementary colour for each of the primary colours below.
  Red
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A trick of the light
Red, green, and blue are the primary colours, because these are in fact the only colours the human eye detects directly. We see all other colours as mixtures of these three. In fact, televisions and monitors only produce red, green, and blue light. They trick our eyes into seeing all other colours by mixing them together in the right proportions. One of the yellow beams in Fig.6 below comes from a yellow object. The other is a combination of primary colours which your eyes interpret as being yellow. Prisms however, can't be tricked as easily as our eyes. Use the prism to find out which light is which.
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Click on the figure below to interact with the model.

 Figure 6.  All that's golden is not yellow.

Which light is a combination of colours?
 
The upper light
The lower light
 
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Summary

The primary colours are red, green, and blue.

The secondary colours are cyan, magenta, and yellow. They are made by combining two primary colours.

White light is made by combining all three primary colours, or by combining a colour and its complementary colour.
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Ballet 22163 Flats Black Softline Black Patent Women’s 018 21 Exercises
1. Select the correct words to complete the sentences below.
 

A triangular prism will split a beam of light into different colours by bending them various amounts. Of the visible colours, light is bent the least, 018 Patent Black Black 21 22163 Women’s Ballet Flats Softline light is bent more, but not as much as light.
2. Certain colours of light can be classified as primary and secondary. Decide the correct classification for the colours below.
  Blue:
  Yellow:
  Orange:
  White:
  Green:
  Red:
  Magenta:
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  Cyan:
  Brown:
 
3. What kind of light do you produce when you combine two primary colours?
 
Black Softline Flats Black 21 22163 Women’s 018 Ballet Patent Another primary colour
A secondary colour
White light
 
4. What kind of light do you produce when you combine all three primary colours?
 
Another primary colour
Black Softline Women’s 22163 018 Ballet 21 Black Patent Flats A secondary colour
White light
 
5. What kind of light do you produce when you combine any colour with its complementary colour?
 
A primary colour
A secondary colour
White light
 
6. What is the complementary colour of a secondary colour?
 
A primary colour
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White light
 
7. Choose the additional colour you would need to create white light.
 

red + green +


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red + + blue

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+ blue
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