The why of colour in a science spectrum

Colour and Optical Properties of Materials
November 24, 2000

The colours of the rainbow, butterfly wings, gemstones, dyes and paints, the blue of the sky, the red of sunset, the sheen of metals - all have their origins in different aspects of the interaction between radiation and matter. To gain any depth of insight into the physical mechanisms responsible for these phenomena requires some acquaintance with quantum physics, organic chemistry and optical engineering. By the time that degree-course students in any one of these subjects have mastered the scientific and mathematical equipment necessary for any real understanding, they have usually reached a point in their studies where time pressures and the demands of specialisation dominate.

In selecting the topics for this most enjoyable book, Richard Tilley has cut an unusual swath across subject material of traditional undergraduate courses to bring together examples of the many ways in which colour arises. The descriptions give enough of the flavour of the science behind each of them to be informative without overburdening the reader with detail. There are problems at the end of each chapter backed up by a set of numerical answers and a website providing further discussion of the problems and on numerical simulations. The book also contains beautiful colour plates.

I doubt that the necessarily rather introductory level of coverage of this book would be appropriate for traditional undergraduate physics or chemistry courses. Perhaps, as its publishers hope, it will find a place as a text on the optical properties of materials for those reading engineering, applied science or technology courses. I feel sure it has a place as a stimulating prelude to university science studies for the gifted sixth-former.


Colin Webb is professor of laser physics, University of Oxford.

Colour and Optical Properties of Materials: First Edition

Author - Richard Tilley
ISBN - 0 471 85197 3 and 85198 1
Publisher - Wiley
Price - £60.00 and £24.95
Pages - 335

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