Madder Red: A Story of Art and Science

Imagine for a moment that you could travel four thousand years into the past, to a marketplace in Egypt. Not just any marketplace. You are in Thebes, in Upper Egypt. In the year 2000 BC. The pharaoh Mentuhotep II has recently died, but in the course of his reign Egypt was reunified and Thebes is now the capital. Thebes is growing into a powerful city. And where there is power, there is colour. You come across an archer’s quiver, and marvel at its intricate woven design. But it’s the colour that impresses… Read More

This Butterfly Is Not Really Blue

  Deep Look is a wonderful new science video series from KQED.  Here they show us how the blue Morpho butterfly actually does not contain any blue pigment.  The blue effect is due to the way light scatters off microscopic structures on the wings. Something very similar happens in blue eyes, which also contain no blue pigment at all.  Paul Van Slembrouk’s story ‘Structural Eye Color Is Amazing’ on Medium provides a great explanation of why each eye colour looks the way it does.     Thanks to thesciencestudio.org, where I found this gem, and where many… Read More

The Mysterious Colour Purple

A little while ago, I wrote an article for Cosmos Magazine on the weird and wonderful history of the earliest known purple pigment. The story begins ancient China, makes a stop in ancient Egypt, finds its way into modern superconductors and winds up in the hands of quantum physicists.  There’s also a little bit of Taoism along the way. It’s a strange tale indeed, and still one of my favourites.  I hope you enjoy! The Mysterious Colour Purple Tphoto credit:  Sharon Drummond  creative commons BY-ND 2.0