Like any good discovery museum exhibit, the San Francisco Exploratorium‘s Color Uncovered interactive e-book (2011) invites users to experiment for themselves as they learn about color. The creation of color by waves of light, humans’ and animals’ perception of color, blending of colors, and complementary colors are just a few of the seventeen color-related topics covered in this well-designed nonfiction offering.
In keeping with the Exploratorium’s philosophy that “having fun is an important part of the [learning] process,” the text is casual and humorous in tone, frequently highlighting facts that are bizarre or downright (delightfully) gross. A section entitled “How Is Monet Like a Honeybee?” explains that, due to cataract surgery removing the lens from one eye, Monet could see unfiltered ultraviolet light — unlike most humans, but similar to bees. An image of a yellow Downy Cinquefoil flower as viewed with normal human sight is contrasted with one in UV light, revealing the neon shades that bees perceive. “Color to Dye For” discusses the prevalence of carmine dye (made from cochineal insects) in modern products and the popularity of “mummy brown” pigment (made from — you guessed it! — actual mummies) among nineteenth-century painters.
Video and activities enhance the engaging text and crisp (brightly colored, of course) visuals. In the “Shades of Meaning” section, short videos demonstrate the wide range of emotional and cultural associations with colors. Interactive opportunities mostly explore with various optical illusions and tricks of vision related to our perception of color. Each activity is accompanied by information explaining “What’s Going On.” A few activities require supplies (e.g., a blank piece of paper, a CD case) that users are likely to have at home, but may preclude experimenting on the go. Navigation through the e-book’s various chapters is easy, with a table of contents and a menu accessible from every screen.
Although the brief articles emphasize breadth of information rather than depth, and seem rather arbitrarily organized, Color Uncovered provides a solid introduction to color and its properties. The e-book may prompt users to research further (or to visit the Exploratorium).
More color information and activities are available on the staff picks page of the Exploratorium’s website.
Available for iPad (requires iOS 4.3 or later); free.