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Light and Color

Light and Color

This lesson aligns with NGSS PS4.B

Have you ever thought about what gives an object its color? We know that white light is made of all the colors of light. But when you view objects under white light, they exhibit distinct colors. For instance, strawberries boast a vibrant red while bananas are yellow. Why aren’t they all white? Additionally, how can a soda bottle manage to appear green and let you see through it at the same time? The answer is the interaction between light and matter. In this article, we will learn about how light interacts with matter, as well as the types of matter.

Light and Matter
Light can interact with any form of matter in three different ways—it can be reflected, absorbed, or transmitted. We have learned the reflection and absorption of light. Transmission is like when light passes through matter. Transmission of light is occurring all the time around us. All of the light that reaches our eyes is transmitted through air. Light can interact with matter in several ways simultaneously, as shown in the figure.

  • You can see the window glass and your reflection in it because the light is reflected off the glass.
  • You can see objects outside the glass because light is transmitted through the glass.
  • When you touch the glass, you feel warm because some light is absorbed by the glass.
Types of Matter
Transparent Matter
Imagine standing in front of a window and looking outside. You can see the scenery clearly because the window is made of transparent material. Matter through which visible light is easily transmitted is known as transparent. Transparent substances allow light to pass through them without bending them too much. This enables us to see objects on the other side with minimal distortion.

Glass is one of the most common transparent materials we encounter daily. It allows light to travel through it, making it perfect for windows, eyeglasses, and even the screens of our smartphones and tablets. Water is another example of a transparent substance. When you look into a clear pond or a glass of water, you can see the bottom because light passes through the water easily.

Translucent Matter
Now, imagine holding a frosted glass windowpane. Unlike a regular glass window, you can't see things clearly through it. This is because the frosted glass is translucent. Translucent materials allow some light to transmit, but they also scatter or bend the light as it passes through the matter. This scattering of light creates a blurry or diffused image on the other side. Wax paper is an example of translucent matter.

Think of a lampshade made of paper or a frosted plastic sheet. When you turn on the light inside, you can see a glow, but you can't make out the details of the light bulb or the surroundings. This is because the translucent material scatters the light in various directions, creating a soft and muted effect.

Opaque Matter
Opaque substances do not allow light to pass through them. Instead, they absorb or reflect light, preventing it from traveling through the material. Consider a wooden door. When it's closed, you can't see what's on the other side at all. This is because wood is an example of an opaque material.

Metals like iron and aluminum are also opaque. When you look at a metal surface, you see your reflection because the metal is bouncing the light back to you. Similarly, when you stand in the shadow of a solid object, such as a building, the object blocks the light, creating an area of darkness. This is because the building is opaque and doesn't let light pass through.

  • Light can interact with any form of matter in three different ways—it can be reflected, absorbed, or transmitted.
  • Transparent substances allow light to pass through them easily without bending it too much. Water, air, and glass are examples of transparent matter.
  • Translucent matter transmits some light but also scatters the light as it passes through the matter. The wax paper demonstrates the example of translucent matter.
  • Matter that does not transmit any light is known as opaque. We cannot see through opaque objects. Wood and metal are examples of opaque matter.

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