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N is for Neon Spreading Illusion: A to Z Challenge 2014

atoz [2014] - BANNER - 910

Blue Neon Madonna in Dunmore, PA. Photo by Margaret Almon
Blue Neon Madonna in Dunmore, PA. Photo by Margaret Almon

The first time we witnessed the Blue Neon Madonna(not her real name), Stratoz and I were startled.  She has a blue mantle of other-worldliness.  Another favorite neon was Electronic Superhighway by Nam June Paik.

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Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Nam June Paik, 1995, 49-channel closed circuit video installation, neon, steel and electronic components, approx. 15 x 40 x 4 ft., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of the artist, 2002.23. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Ehrenstein Color Figure
Ehrenstein Color Figure via Andy Parkinson.


Neon signs combine glass tubes with inert gases and electrification to create a gorgeous glow.  I love neon signs, but neon paint never appealed to me, and in investigating what makes a color “neon,” I discovered that it’s the addition of substances that show up under UV or black light.  The paint will reflect back more light than expected.  I also discovered the illusion of neon color spreading, where colored lines in the midst of black lines take on a glow like a neon sign.

Neon Color Circle
Neon Color Circle via blebspot.






L is for Light Receptors: A to Z Challenge 2014

Mixing primary color paint is an ingrained memory from elementary school.  Mixing light is much less familiar, and watching this video was a bit unnerving.  If you mix red and green light, our brains will interpret it as yellow light.  I was staggered by the complexity of interpretation on the part of the brain, creating many colors with of just three types of light receptors: red, green, and blue.

The RGB Color Model


Serendipitous Orange from Oregon State University Chemistry Department

The colors that the OSU lab has developed so far, include numerous shades of vibrant blue, bright orange, browns, greens, yellows and turquioise/aquamarine. So far, only the development of a deep red has eluded the research team. (Jesse Skoubo/Corvallis Gazette-Times)
The colors that the lab has developed so far, include numerous shades of vibrant blue, bright orange, browns, greens, yellows and turquioise/aquamarine. So far, only the development of a deep red has eluded the research team. (Jesse Skoubo/Corvallis Gazette-Times)

In 2009, Dr. Mas Subramanian at Oregon State University was exploring the electronic properties of manganese oxides, and after heating a sample to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it turned an intense blue.  The pigment is stable and lightfast.  During my brief experience with watercolor, I read warnings about colors that fade quickly, called fugitive colors, as if they flee the painting.  Leave posters on a bulletin board in the sun long enough, and some will become pale echoes.  Once I took overlapping posters down, and the part hidden underneath was preserved, and a surprise, because I didn’t notice it happening slowly.

 The unusual "trigonal bipyramidal" crystalline structure seen here is being used by researchers at Oregon State University to create a range of new pigments with properties of safety and stability that should have important applications in the paint and pigment industries. (Graphic courtesy of Oregon State University)

The unusual “trigonal bipyramidal” crystalline structure seen here is being used by researchers at Oregon State University to create a range of new pigments with properties of safety and stability that should have important applications in the paint and pigment industries. (Graphic courtesy of Oregon State University)

By 2011, the OSU lab had found ways to make other colors, including orange, enhanced by adding iron.  I look at the blue and the orange, and on the surface I don’t see their kinship, but underneath they are  crystalline siblings.  Chemistry discovers the soul of the material world, and an object lesson in small changes making transformative differences like blue into orange.


More Orange Goodness on my Orange Tuesdays Pinterest Board.

Making Chemistry Enticing with the Illustrations of Edward Youmans

Edward Youmans
Chemistry of Combustion and Illumination, Edward Youmans

I first saw these chemistry illustrations via Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings, How Chemistry Works: Gorgeous Vintage Science Diagrams, 1854, by Edward Youmans.  My mosaic eye was immediately drawn to the modular construction of the flame in Chemistry of Combusion and Illumination.

Isomerism, Edward Youmans.
Isomerism, Edward Youmans.

The quilt-like arrangements of Isomerism intrigued me as well.  And of course, the decomposition of light resonates with my love of color gradation.

Decomposition of Light, Edward Youmans.
Decomposition of Light, Edward Youmans.

Edward Livingston Youmans(1821-1887), went through many travails with his eyesight, and for many years, his sister Eliza Ann Youmans acted as his proxy in the chemistry lab, through her persistence in finding teachers who would take a woman student.  Edward was enchanted by science, though chemistry was a challenge because of difficulty of visualizing the processes, and as his sister relates in Popular Science Monthly(the magazine he founded with his brother):

When he reflected that chemistry was fast becoming a popular branch of education, and that, so far as its processes were concerned, the youths who were studying it might be classed, along with himself, as blind, their situation naturally interested him. Occupied with this subject, there one day arose in his mind a scheme for picturing atoms and their combinations that would bring the eye of the student into more effectual service. . . Atoms of the different elements were shown by diagrams of different colors, the relative sizes of which expressed their combining ratios, and the compounds exhibited the exact numbers of the respective atoms that unite to form them. . . He thought that chemistry could be made enticing as well as intelligible to learners who had not the help of experiments in its pursuit.

What a startling image of “bringing the eye of the student into more effectual service,” and the enticement of beautifully colored diagrams(as the subtitle of the book states.)  After Edward married in 1861, Eliza Ann Youmans went on to write several books on botany, including The First Book of Botany: Designed to Cultivate the Observing Powers of Children(1870).  Among other topics for Popular Science Monthly, she wrote about optics, Darwin, and lace making.

Chemical Atlas; or The Chemistry of Familiar Objects

Margaret Wright(1944-): Adventures in Optimization

Nelder-Mead optimization given 9 points (6 gray-scale and r,g,b)
Nelder-Mead optimization given 9 points (6 gray-scale and r,g,b) via Josh Siegel on Flickr.

In honor of the birthday of Ada Lovelace(1815-1852), founder of scientific computing, I am writing about Margaret Wright.  She works with optimization which is both math and computing related, and helps solve practical problems, like when she was at Bell Labs, and had the task of how to set up an indoor wireless system at Home Depot.  The stores are complicated in design, and optimization was a way to make a “good enough” system, that while not perfect, worked.  I love her enthusiasm:  “I don’t know if I can convey it without leaping up and down,” Wright exclaimed, “but there is such joy for mathematicians in helping to solve real world problems.”  (Margaret Wright and Real World Mathematics)

In layman’s terms, the mathematical science of Convex Optimization is the study of how to make a good choice when confronted with conflicting requirements.  The qualifier convex means: when an optimal solution is found, then it is guaranteed to be a best solution; there is no better choice.(Convex Optimization)

I like this idea that processes with uncertainty and many complications can be improved, even if they can’t be perfect, and I am fascinated that there are mathematical ways to figure out these improvements.  (I suspect with the “Convex Optimization Cheat Sheet” below only works as a cheat sheet if you have some mathematical skill. . .)

Convex Optimization Cheat Sheet
Convex Optimization Cheat Sheet via John Chilton on Flickr.

How to Grow in a Math Job
Useful observations about growing in a job, and dealing with stereotypes in math and computing science, and would apply to other fields.

I can Wear a Math Hat and  Computer Science Hat: An Interview with Margaret Wright 
Wright mentions working with Nelder-Mead method, and I did a search in Flickr and found the cool photo above, with colors.  Apparently, optimization can help with calibrating colors on different screens.

How Hard Can it Be?  Lecture by Margaret Wright.
I understood much of the English parts of this, and nothing of the formulas, but it was an interesting discussion of cryptography among other practical problems.

Red Dwarfs, Nanoparticles and the Colors of Glass: Guest Post by Michelle Francl-Donnay of Quantum Theology

Today I am sharing blog space with Michelle Francl-Donnay.  Michelle found Stratoz’s blog, because she too was going to Wernersville Jesuit Center for a silent retreat.   I met Michelle  in 2008, when she came to one of our craft shows. She wanted to meet us, and ended up smitten with my Spiral Mandala, and purchased it for her prayer space.  She is a delightful combination of Ignatian spirituality, thoughtful writing, and Professor of Chemistry. Be sure to check her out at Quantum Theology, and see the pure awesomeness of her photo mosaic of Marie Curie, composed of 270 female scientists.

Gold nanoparticles, from Wikimedia and used under a Creative Commons license.


Red Dwarfs

I want to thank Margaret for her invitation to visit her blog and talk
about chemistry and color. I have a gorgeous mosaic by Margaret
hanging on my wall — deep blues and golds spiraling inward. I
love Margaret’s art, but I also enjoy her poetry. She’s writing about
Marie Curie, in poetry and prose over at my blog today. Do come
visit Marie and Margaret there!

If you see a colored compound in chemistry, you can almost bet that it
will contain a transition metal. Though we think of metals as being a
shiny grey hue (with a few exceptions, gold being one), metals are key
to color, particulary in art. The visible frequencies of light are
relatively low in energy, and correspond to the small gaps in energy
that electrons can leap in metals (what chemists call d to d
transitions). Cobalt blue, one of my favorite hues, is (as its name
suggests) a cobalt salt: CoAl2O4.

To get different colors, you have to use different metal salts. You can get
a brilliant yellow using lead chromate, the same chrome
yellow that Vincent Van Gogh used
. Tweaking colors to get
slightly different hues requires either mixing materials or finding a
different salt altogether, the gaps that the electrons leap over when
they absorb light aren’t adjustable.

But there are other ways to create color using metals. Red stained
glass has been made for centuries by adding gold to molten glass and
carefully controlling the temperature. The gold clusters together in
small particles which then become evenly distributed and suspended in
the glass.

These tiny clusters are called nanoparticles, because they are 100
nanometers or less in size. One nanometer is 1 billionth of a meter,
the period in this sentence is about a million nanometers across, the
little gold balls in red glass are about 25 nanometers in diameter.
The prefix nano, comes from the Greek word for “dwarf,” hence the
title of this post. Nanoscience is older than you think!

The gold nanoparticles are not dissolved in the glass, but form a
colloid. And one property of colloids is that they scatter light.
Different frequencies of light scatter differently, which is why the
sky is blue, though the scattering of light by a colloid is a slightly
different process. (Scattering isn’t the only process involved in the
color, but unless you really want to fly off the math cliff with me,
let’s leave talk of quantum dots and wavefunctions to another day.)

The color of light that a colloid scatters depends on the size and
shapes of the particles dispersed. It turns out just by varying the
size and shape of the particles involved you can tune your gold
nanoparticles to be red, red-violet or even green and many colors in

If you are interested in knowing more about the history and chemistry
of color, Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color by Philip
Ball is a terrific introduction. For a readable introduction to
nanoparticles, quantum dots and color, try this
in the NY Times.

is from Wikimedia and used under a Creative Commons license.

More Marie:
X is for X-Ray and Marie Curie’s Quest to Help the Wounded in WWI