Space & Innovation

Changing Seasons Also Change How You See Color

The change of seasons may affect how the eye interprets the color yellow. Continue reading →

In many parts of the world, the annual seasons come with their own colors – more green in the summer, more white and gray in the winter.

Interestingly, the change of seasons may also affect how we perceive certain colors, according to new research published in Current Biology.

The specific color in this case is yellow, and our eyes tend to interpret what ‘real' yellow looks like as being different in the winter compared to summer.

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Yellow is one of four "unique hues" perceived by the human eye, along with blue, green, and red. This distinction means that these colors are read by the eye as ‘pure' – or not mixed with any other colors.

But yellow stands alone even within the ‘unique' category. That's because most people agree on what ‘real' yellow looks like, despite individual differences between eyes.

Could stable perception of the color yellow by so many people be due to environmental reasons rather than physiological ones, researchers wondered?

To test their theory, they asked 67 men and women in the U.K. to judge when a colored light had reached ‘unique yellow' in both June and January and "found a significant seasonal change in (unique yellow) settings."

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"What we are finding is that between seasons our vision adapts to changes in environment," study author Lauren Welbourne said in the release.

She suspects that our visual systems naturally strive to balance how we perceive color as the colors around us change with the seasons - much like you might adjust the color on a TV set.

"In York (U.K.), you typically have grey, dull winters and then in summer you have greenery everywhere. Our vision compensates for those changes and that, surprisingly, changes what we think ‘yellow' looks like."

The findings won't do a lot to further medical treatment of vision problems, but they do help illuminate how vision works and how we navigate the world around us.

"The more we learn about how vision and color in particular is processed, the better we can understand exactly how we see the world," Welbourne said.

You say red, I say blue. You say green, I say yellow. Now we can get along. Researchers around the world are using materials science to give fabrics, flowers, light fixtures, even eyeballs color-changing capabilities. Here we look at 10. Above: Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley developed an

ultra-thin silicon material

that can change color when flexed or when a small amount of force is applied to the surface. The new technology provides flexibility and precision in generating specific colors, paving the way for new advancements in display technology, camouflage materials or even to someday infuse color into buildings or bridges.


Volvorii Timeless smart shoe

can change colors and patterns --; polka dots, stripes or other designs -- through an app that is controlled by a smartphone. The shoes, which were supported by an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, will start at $249 and are expected to be available in December of 2015.


Stroma Medical

is using melanin-targeting laser technology to break down the pigment on the outer layers of brown irises to give customers permanently blue eyes. The company says the process takes only about 20 seconds and the color change is visible within four weeks. The procedure isn’t yet FDA-approved and experts have expressed safety concerns about the long-term effects that would first need to be addressed.

Revolution Bioengineering

(RevBio), based in Colorado, has genetically modified flowers to change color continuously throughout the day when activated by a dilute ethanol, such as beer. Some flowers can change from, say, pink to blue and back again. Others change from white to red on demand. According to RevBio, if you know which enzyme is not working in a flower, the process can be fixed and the flower can gain color again by watering the plant with a dilute ethanol.

SOLS, a startup for customized orthotic insoles, is developing a new 3D-printed sneaker line called ADAPTIV that incorporates biomechanics, fashion and robotics. The shoe uses a system of gyroscopes and pressure sensors to alert the shoe’s adaptive materials to adjust air pressure and fluids to support body motions. It also allows for constant monitoring of health stats and incorporates color-sensing cameras with RGB-adjustable LED lights to change color to match different outfits.

Karma Chameleon

, a project being developed by researchers at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, is investigating ways to use electronic fabric that can change its own visual properties by harnessing power directly from the body. When woven into fabrics, the garments will change color in response to physical movement. Researchers, however, believe it will be about 20 to 30 years before these fabrics reach stores.

LED lighting company

Solid Apollo LED

recently unveiled color-changing lighting fixtures. Perfect for entertainment rooms and bars, the three-knob color control and wireless remote control can play one of 29 color-changing programs and provides more than 16,000 colors on any RGB LED strip light or lighting fixture.


unveiled a new handbag that can change colors by pressing a button on an app. The bag can be programmed to flash a custom lightshow synchronized to a song or flash a selected color when the user receives a phone call. In addition, the bags are capable of charging a smartphone, tablet or another personal electronic device. The handbags retail between $499 and $699 and are now available for pre-order on the company’s website.


E Ink Prism

, large, rectangular tiles can change color on demand. Power is required -- in very small amounts -- when the colors actually change. With this new material, architects could create more versatile and cost-effective designs and eliminate the need to paint buildings or rooms.

This ice cream, called Xameleon, changes from purple to pink when licked. Spanish physicist-turned-cook Manuel Linares won’t divulge his recipe, but says the ice cream is made from natural ingredients.