Prisms, Light, and Color

Basswood Prism_crop_2

It’s amazing what you can learn from your kids. This week I learned that light travels in a straight line through a prism until it exits the prism at which time it is magically dispersed into its component colors. This process, also known as the Maple Grove Law of Refraction, happens only in Minnesota. Ever since it was discovered, physicists have been heading to Minnesota to verify this violation of known physical laws. The ghost of Isaac Newton was also reported to be roaming the schools of Maple Grove in an attempt to correct this egregious mistake.


In fact, when light enters a prism, it is bent, based on the speed of light in the material. Blue light has a shorter wavelength than red light and is bent more than red light. A similar process happens when the light exits the prism, leading to the familiar spectral pattern. See Cyberphysics for more details.

Unlike my last discussion with the school, where they were unwilling to correct their wrong color theory, the school was receptive to this information. After I contacted the school, the sixth grade teacher stated, “Thank you for the diagram. I found it very informative and will make note of the correction.” Now if only the sixth grade teachers would help the second graders with their understanding of color.


About Mark Mizen

I have over twenty years professional experience in all aspects of photography and digital imaging. I am Chair of the ISO WG5 TG2 committee responsible for physical properties and durability of imaging material and am currently with HID Global working on systems for security printing for IDs, licenses, and credit cards. Previously, I was Director of Digital Development at Creative Memories from 2009 to 2012 and was responsible for the Creative Memories digital products and services. I also established and directed the Creative Memories Technology Center, which evaluated new products prior to product introduction, assisted with production difficulties, and provided technical information to support product sales.
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1 Response to Prisms, Light, and Color

  1. Other Comcast says:

    I learned ROYGBIV no mention of that anywhere?

    Marianne Sent from my iPhone


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