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Isaac Newton

What was Issac Newton's contribution to our understanding of color?

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April 28, 2015 3:22AM

Sir Issac Newton discovered that when light passes through a prism it is broken into the seven rainbow colors.

Today understands of light and color begins with Isaac Newton. He published a series of experiments that he did in 1674. He was the first to understand the rainbow; he used the white light with a prism resolving it into its component colors. Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. In the late 1660's, Newton started to experiment with his "celebrated phenomenon of colors." At this point in history people thought that color was just a mixture of light and darkness, and that the prism colored the light. Hooke the proponent of the theory had a scale that went from brilliant red which was pure white light with the least amount of darkness added, to dull blue, the last step before black, which was the complete extinction of light by darkness Newton found out this theory was wrong.

He went up to his chamber and shut out all the light except a little tiny bit then he put the first prism in front of the white light and saw a rainbow spectrum appear 22ft. away on the far wall. This phenomenon had often been observed before, but it had always been related to latent color that was said to exist in the glass of the prism. Newton took this simple experiment a step further. He passed his miniature rainbow through a second prism; and instead of turning into all the colors of the rainbow again it stayed the same color.

His conclusion was revolutionary: Color is in the light, not in the glass, and the light people see as white is a mixture of all the colors of the visible spectrum. Newton discovered that light behaves a lot like waves, bending around objects, much as water flows around them. When light strikes a prism, the different waves of color are bent to different angles, which create the rainbow spectrum we see. Red light bends the least and violet light bends the most.