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The Science of Colour

What is colour? It seems a simple enough question, doesn’t it? Colour is one of the most striking features of the world around us. Colour can persuade us, effect our moods and act as a powerful form of communication.

For young children, colour recognition is an essential developmental tool.

It’s one of the first things we teach them when they are small. Roses are red, the sky is blue, frogs are green. This kind of colour recognition is a key cognitive developmental step for toddlers, as it plays an important role in how we describe and categorise the world. On a simple emotional level, kids find colours appealing, stimulating and fun.

But what is colour? It might surprise you to know that is was only about 250 years ago that we started to understand its physical underpinnings. English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton conducted a series of experiments with sunlight and prisms. He was the first to scientifically explain the rainbow, by demonstrating that clear white light is composed of seven visible colours. Newton’s work laid the path for others to experiment with color, leading to breakthroughs in optics, physics, chemistry, perception, and the study of color in nature.

All of which makes colour a super engaging theme for kids to explore, and perfect for applying STEAM learning principals. STEAM is an educational approach to learning that integrates Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Maths by applying hands on learning, problem solving, creativity, curiosity and fun!

Using the science and art of colour as the starting point, Tiger Tribe’s Rainbow Lab - Playing with Colour is an activity set designed for curious kids, filled with projects designed to help kids apply STEAM principals to the world around them.

During product development every project and all the scientific facts contained in the kit were fact checked by Dr Niraj Lal, a physicist, presenter, author and dad.

“I was commissioned as a scientist to review the content of Rainbow Lab. Not only was the science in the kits a joy to review and check – and largely almost completely accurate before I checked it – but the design, composition and physicality of the kits themselves were a delight to play with.” says Dr Nij,

 Kids start their Rainbow Lab journey by Understanding Colour, getting acquainted with our old friend Sir Isaac, learning about the difference between warm/cool and complementary colours, exploring colour blindness and taking the Colour Challenge. Next, they begin investigating a bunch of Colour Absorption Experiments. From transforming a plain paper napkin into a rainbow hippie creation with drops of food colouring, to making milk do the tango colour dance, and learning about capillary action and surface tension along the way.

Rainbow Lab   Rainbow Lab2

The Colour & Craft section shows kids how to create cool and colourful paper sculptures called an agamograph and use the enclosed circle pop-out to make a spinning, vanishing rainbow. They can even build their own Thaumatrope — a brilliant optical toy that creates animated movement and demonstrates how our eyes can mix colours too.

“It’s perhaps the physicality of Rainbow Lab that is the best — it’s not screen based, or digital, or virtual in any way, but real and holdable and explorable — something that is becoming rarer in the modern educational environment,” explains Dr Nij. “The provision of the equipment in these neat, self-contained, beautifully designed kits will provide a robust, real and empowering introduction into the world of STEAM, and spark so many young minds to independent exploration.”

And this is perhaps the key to STEAM learning — encouraging kids to find answers themselves. Arguably never more important in a world inundated with online information sourced from wikipedia, google, social media and fake news.

As Dr Nij points out, “The challenge for children growing up today is less in finding information and remembering it, and perhaps more in how to figure out whether it's believable or not. Science and the tools of critical thinking help us figure this out for ourselves, identifying evidence and using it to learn how the universe works. With science we can learn how rainbows work, and what sunlight is made of, and how our eyes work, and why the moons shines – all things that this kit helps to explain.”

So, what is colour? Well, you might just have to grab a copy of Rainbow Lab - Playing with Colour and find out for yourself!

About Dr Niraj Lal

Dr Niraj Lal

Dr Niraj (Nij) Lal graduated with a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar in 2012 and was named one of the ABC's Top 5 Scientists Under 40 in 2016. He's the author of Henry the Flying Emu, a children’s book about gravity illustrated by Adam Carruthers, and is currently a Visiting Fellow with the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems, Principal at AEMO, and the new host of Imagine This for ABC Kids Listen. Nij regularly appears on telly and radio to talk science (he’s obsessed), and lives in Melbourne, Australia with his partner Sally and two kids Ash and Ella.






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