If you've ever spent much time in American farm country, then you've probably noticed that there's a strong tradition there of coating barns and outbuildings with red paint. Why?
Because nuclear fusion.
Okay, the actual answer is simply because red paint has long been a cheap color to buy. But, explains Google engineer Yonatan Zunger, there is some really interesting physics lurking in the background of that price point.
What makes a cheap pigment? Obviously, that it’s plentiful. The red pigment that makes cheap paint is red ochre, which is just iron and oxygen. These are incredibly plentiful: the Earth’s crust is 6% iron and 30% oxygen. Oxygen is plentiful and affects the color of compounds it’s in by shaping them, but the real color is determined by the d-electrons of whatever attaches to it: red from iron, blues and greens from copper, a beautiful deep blue from cobalt, and so on. So if we know that good pigments will all come from elements in that big d-block in the middle, the real question is, why is one of these elements, iron, so much more common than all of the others? Why isn’t our world made mostly of, say, copper, or vanadium?
My friend Diana Eng is a fashion designer. She says:
A couple of years ago trend forecasters at Premiere Vision said a highlighter neon yellow would be a big color for Fall/Winter 2012. I’ve been seeing this color for a while at American Apparel which didn’t mean much since they cater to hipsters. But when I walked into the Gap this holiday season and saw neon yellow everywhere I knew that the self-fulfilling trend forecast had come true! How much do I love this type of yellow?
I visited an abandoned sulfur mine situated in the center of a dormant volcano on White Island to view a super concentrated neon yellow, sulfur. Yes, I like to stare at colors and vacation to spots of geological interest.
As part of the celebration for the 75th birthday of the Golden Gate Bridge, a group of artists led by Stephanie Syjuco have set up an imaginary gift shop for the Bridge, filled with tchotchkes in the bridge's iconic rusty orange (it's a custom color that is generally mixed in 500-gallon batches). The tchotchkes aren't for sale or anything -- they're just there as a kind of installation in celebration of that wonderful orange. Rachel Swaby covered the installation's opening for Wired:
It’s a souvenir store with a twist. “What is the most disconcerting is that there are no images on things,” says Syjuco. Apart from that iconic orange marking each and every object, there is no branding to speak off.”
The range of products on display is also slightly absurd: Pencils, keychains, and earrings sit atop a table. An Eames chair is perched on a stand to the left. Lined up on shelves against the back wall are mugs, pillows, plate sets, and bottles of unidentified red sauce. “I tried to overdo it,” says Syjuco. “There’s wine, deodorant, car air fresheners — it gets crazy.”
I don't think these hot color-dipped baseball bats will do much to improve your swing, but I do like the idea of a batting practice that looks like the big box of Crayolas.
The Texas-based Warstic Wood Bat Company knows that "there are very few secrets to making a great wood baseball bat," they say. "It's about sourcing and selecting the best wood, craftsmanship, attention to detail and knowing how to achieve the right feel." But Warstic does the process one better by adding a dash of style, and even color, with their lines of Half Dip and Full Dip bats made from ash and maple.
This segment of an episode of Horizon, called "Do You See What I See?"
shows how language has an effect on how people see color, especially when comparing colors.
The Himba of northern Namibia categorize colors differently than English speakers. From an American Psychological Association article called "Hues and Views" :
In short, the range of stimuli that for Himba speakers comes to be categorized as "serandu" would be categorized in English as red, orange or pink. As another example, Himba children come to use one word, "zoozu," to embrace a variety of dark colors that English speakers would call dark blue, dark green, dark brown, dark purple, dark red or black.
Roberson and her colleagues explain that different languages have differing numbers of "basic color terms." English has 11 such terms, the same as in many of the world's major languages, and Himba has five, each of which covers a broader range of colors.
In a test, Himba were able to very quickly point out the standout color below:
It took me a long time to figure out which color was different (it complicates matters that the TV program pointed to the wrong square!). I used the eyedropper tool in Adobe Illustrator to confirm which square had the different color. Click here to see the RGB value for each square.
The Himba had a much harder time pointing out the square that English speakers would categorize as a shade of blue:
One of the challenges for me in getting used to the Yurmby color wheel is learning to recognize cyan and magenta as basic color terms, distinct from blue, green, and red.
Because I didn’t grow up with the terms “cyan” and “magenta,” it has taken me a few years to remap my brain, but now I routinely recognize cyan and magenta colors around me according to their own terms.
It would have been much easier if I had learned those color terms in kindergarten, but that would be like changing America to the metric system.