In art, color is very important. The color wheel is often used to explain the relationship of different colors to one another. In this way, artists know what colors look good with each other and how to mix paint to produce more colors. All possible color combinations can be made by mixing just three primary colors with white and black. Artists use a color wheel that has the three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — and three secondary colors — orange, green, and violet — as well as the tertiary colors that are in between, such as blue-green.

In this project, see the bright colors of the rainbow disappear right before your eyes as you learn about the properties of light and how we see color.

What You Need:

  • 1 white paper plate
  • Cereal bowl or coffee can lid
  • Markers, crayons, or colored pencils: purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red.
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Thumbtack or push pin
  • Pencil with eraser
  • Protractor
  • Be sure to have an adult supervise the project any time there are sharp objects involved!

What You Do:

  1. Draw a circle: Use the cereal bowl or plastic lid to trace a circle onto one of the paper plates.
  2. Find the center of the circle: With a pencil, use a ruler to draw a straight line that touches the circle and extends to the edges of the paper plate. Do this again on the opposite side of the circle so that the lines intersect near the top of the plate. Then, do the same thing – draw two straight lines on each side of the circle that intersect — at the bottom of the circle. Now, line the ruler up with the left and right intersections and very lightly make a one-inch line in the center of the circle. Then, align the ruler with the top and bottom intersections and lightly draw a one-inch line in the center of the circle. Where the two short, light lines intersect is the center of the circle! Put a dot there and erase one of the short, light lines inside the circle.
  3. Draw lines in the circle to make six equal parts: Place your ruler on the remaining light line, aligning it with the intersecting lines again, and draw the line to extend from the center dot to the edge of the circle. Put the 0-degree mark of the protractor (not the 0-inch mark, but the 0-degree mark of the protractor) on the center dot, with the straight edge along your line. Find 60 degrees on the curved edge and make a dot outside the circle. Use the straight edge to make a light line between the center dot and 60-degree dot. Again, place the 0-degree mark on the center dot, align the straight edge on the line you just made, make a dot outside the circle at 60 degrees. Repeat until you have lines dividing the circle into six equal parts.
  4. Color each section: Choose a section to start with and color it purple. Then, move to the next section and color it blue. Continue around the circle with green, yellow, orange, and red, in that order.
  5. Cut out the circle with scissors.
  6. Attach the color wheel to the eraser of a pencil. Use a thumbtack or push pin to make a hole in the center of your color wheel, and stick it into your pencil eraser.
  7. Spin the color wheel: Lay the pencil on the edge of a table with the color wheel hanging over the edge. Use the palm of your hand to push and spin the pencil as fast as you can and watch the color wheel turn white!

What Happened:

Light is made of all the colors in the rainbow. When light hits a colored object, most of it is absorbed and only one color is reflected. A red object, for example, absorbs almost the full spectrum of light, reflecting red only. When the color wheel was spinning, the colors changed faster than your eyes could see the individual colors and send the signals to your brain, so the reflections of all of the colors blended and you saw white light!

Learn more about the amazing properties of light in Introduction to Light science lesson. See how light acts when it travels through water by doing the Make a Light Fountain experiment!