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Colour: The Spectrum of Science

Go beyond the rainbow in this OU/BBC series that delves into colour, how it works and how it has written the story of our planet.

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Helen looking at all the colours of the rainbow (BBC PROGRAMME USE ONLY) Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: BBC We live in a world ablaze with colour. From rainbows and rainforests to oceans and humanity, earth is the most colourful place we know of. But the colours we see are far more complex and fascinating than they appear. In this series, Dr Helen Czerski uncovers what colour is, how it works, and how it has written the story of our planet.

From the colours that transformed a dull ball of rock into a vivid jewel to the colours that life has used to survive and thrive. But the story doesn’t end there. There are also the colours that we can’t see, the ones that lie beyond the rainbow. Each one has a fascinating story to tell.

As series co-producer, we've collated a range of fascinating content to help take your learning further. You can:

The first episode of Colour: the Spectrum of Science will air on BBC Four on Wednesday 4th November 2015 at 9PM. Full broadcast details and watch again links can be found on

Learn more about the science of colour

To find out more about the optical illusions, confusing lighting and how the Lion King can change your perception of colour visit the BBC iWonder guide Why do we see colours differently?, written by OU academic and programme consultant Nicholas Turner.

Look at colour in everday life and culture

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Episode 2: Colours of Life

Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Rob Hollingworth The raw early Earth had plenty of colour but that was nothing compared with what was going to come next. That canvas was about to be painted with a vast new palette and the source of those colours was life.

Green is the colour of the natural world and yet it’s the one colour plants have evolved not to use. The huge diversity of human skin tones tells the story of how humanity spread and ultimately conquered the planet. But the true masters of colour turn out to be some of the smallest and most elusive.  Dr Helen Czerski travels to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee during the one week in the year when fireflies light up the night sky with their colourful mating display. And she reveals the marine animals that hide from the world by changing the colour of their skin. 

Episodes in this series

Episode Description
Episode 3: Colours Beyond the Rainbow What colours are invisible to our eyes? Dr Helen Czerski explores ultra violet, X rays, infra-red and more in the... Read more
Episode 2: Colours of Life This episode looks at colour in life; from green - the colour of the naural world - to the diverse colour of human... Read more
Episode 1: Colours of Earth Dr Helen Czerski explores the golds, whites, reds, blues and much more in the first episode of the series. Read more




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