Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘colors’

A tale of black and pink

Happy New Year to all my readers!

I’d like to start 2017 by passing along a story of black and pink. The color combination isn’t new — it was quite popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, echoing the famous “Silence = Death” AIDS protest poster. I still have a black jacket with a hot-pink lining that my late mother bought me 20 years ago.

Now, apparently, an artist that has restricted other artists from using a particular “black” has been banned from acquiring the “world’s pinkest pink.”

I have no idea why the pink pigment described in the Smithsonian article has that superlative attached to it. The little jar looks about as pink as the hat I’m knitting for the Women’s March on Washington, or perhaps the Hello Kitty lens-cleaning kit that a friend gave me. Perhaps most painters make their pinks by blending red and white paints together, rather than buying something explicitly labeled pink.

Anyhow, the artist who isn’t allowed to buy the pinkest pink had previously made some sort of deal that stated he was going to be the only person allowed to make artworks with Vantablack, also known as the world’s “blackest black.” It’s a pigment made out of carbon nanotubes, which are tiny rolled-up sheets of pure carbon. (If the “blackest black” seems to be something out of a military video game, you’re right — it was developed for military applications.) As I’ve written in several short articles in OPN’s newsroom archives, carbon nanotubes can absorb radiation strongly at lots of different wavelengths, extending into the infrared. The artist’s monopoly on Vantablack inspired the pink-pigment manufacturer to keep his creation out of that artist’s hands.

Note that the restriction on using Vantablack applies only to “art”; anyone who wants to use the carbon nanotubes to dampen reflections inside a telescope or make some piece of military hardware invisible to enemies is perfectly able to do so.


Light in the season of dark

Once again I feel the need to apologize for not keeping this blog as up to date as I had intended long ago. This month began roughly, with the deaths of two friends, followed swiftly by the terrible school shooting in Newtown, Conn., which I drive by every December on the way to visit New England family and friends. We are all challenged to find the holiday spirit this year.

Our moods are not lifted by the shortness of the natural daylight in the Northern Hemisphere and the length of time we spend under our imperfect artificial lights. One recent study links our exposure to bright lights during the night hours to depression and even learning impairment. (Here’s the link to the original paper in Nature.) In other words, to lift our mood and improve our cognition, we should put down the computers and tablets after sunset and put our eyes and brains back in sync with the natural world. I’ve personally never been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, but I do know one thing: when I go camping during the summer, the bright sunlight all day long, coupled with the lack of artificial glow at night, makes me surprisingly ready to go to sleep early and get a full night of rest.

Whether or not you have “the blues,” check out science writer Natalie Angier’s lyrical “ode to blue” that was published in the New York Times back in October. I recall reading, in a parakeet-care booklet I had as a kid, a passing reference to the fact that a blue-chested parakeet’s feathers would not look blue if they were plucked off the bird. In recent years scientists have been paying much more attention to the structural basis of bright biological colors, including blue, as my colleague Yvonne Carts-Powell noted recently.

To change the subject … If you’re like me and most of my friends, you’ve been eagerly anticipating the release of the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Even though the movie was quite long, I stayed through all of the closing credits so that I could catch the name of Luca Fascione, one of the software brains behind Weta Digital’s amazing visual effects. I interviewed Fascione for my January 2009 OPN article on photorealistic rendering, which explains why a deep understanding of the physics of light absorption and scattering is necessary to create computer-generated beings that look plausibly real. I’m glad the full text is available to all, because it’s a fascinating topic.

Whether you dwell in the solstice-darkened lands of the north or the summer-kissed lands of the south (like Middle-earth — New Zealand, I mean), and whatever your spiritual beliefs are, I wish you much peace in the coming year.