Friday, January 16, 2009

Here’s something I was thinking about the other day while I was sobbing over the pathetic winter we’ve had so far. Color. More specifically change in color. In most cases a change in color of some object isn’t really a change in color at all, but more of a color diffusion of sorts. Let me explain a little more.

Remember back in your elementary school days when you took art class and painted some black stick-house comprised of a square and an isosceles triangle with two windows and a door with your little stick-family standing in front of it? No doubt, you learned then that when you mixed the blue paint with the yellow you got green paint and when you mixed the red paint with the blue paint you got purple paint, etc. You know; the whole primary colors thing. Well I bet you never thought about what actually was happening there.

Let’s advance a few years to high school chemistry. Remember learning about a physical change vs. a chemical change? You probably melted some ice and called it a physical change and burned some paper and called it a chemical change. Well you did good there sonny, until it came to color changes. Sometimes, a color change was physical and other times it was chemical and you didn’t really know which one it was so you guessed or made sure your circle covered both physical and chemical so you could argue your case as to what you circled depending on which one was actually correct.

Now let’s combine the two lessons. Back in art class, you mixed two paints (containing the same chemical structure) of different color and got the same paint, but with a new color. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. Theoretically you still have red paint and blue paint, but the paint molecules are so close together that it appears purple. Your eyes can’t tell that there are multiple colored molecules. Because the molecules are so randomly mixed and packed together, it just appears as one solid color. It’s sort of like way back in the day when you used Paint on that old 386, 32-color, IBM computer of yours. You needed different shaded of gray so you would paint with a “dark gray” that had more black dots in it than white dots, and a “light gray” that had more white dots than black dots in it. From afar it looked like different shades of gray, but really it was always just black and white dots.

When color change occurs like this, it is a purely physical change. The molecular structure of your paint isn’t changing; it is just getting scrambled around. Liquids and gases do this constantly. We just don’t notice it because it’s always the same color. Put a drop of food coloring in your water without stirring and you’ll notice there is always a continuous motion in the liquid. The food coloring isn’t bonding with water; it is just being dispersed into it. A physical change. The water isn’t actually changing in color; it is just spreading the molecules of the food coloring out to make the food coloring appear lighter in color.

So the next time you see something of color, take a closer look and see if the color is what it is, or just a mixture of other colors that are so tightly packed together, your eyes can’t tell the difference. Unless of course your object is light, in which case we have to talk about something completely different in the form of wave energy. And so begins the great contrast of particles vs. waves. Ah Max Planck would be so happy!

1 comment:

Gretta B said...

Damn you for trying to stimulate my mind when I just wanted something to read! I hope your happy. Now I'm going to lay in bed at night pondering physical vs. chemical colors....sigh....