Mysterious Appearing Colors

Create a spinning disk illusion that turns black and white into color

Print this Experiment

We’ve mixed our share of colors here at Steve Spangler. We know that red and blue make purple, blue and yellow make green, and that yellow and red make orange. Most of all, we know that when you mix black and white you get…um…a rainbow.

Click Here to Download the Template


Experiment Videos

Here's What You'll Need

  • Printer
  • White paper
  • Craft paper or card stock paper
  • Glue stick
  • Toothpicks
  • Downloadable template (See link below)

Let's Try It

  1. Click the link above to download the template and print it out on craft paper or card stock.

  2. Cut out one of the four circular designs.

  3. Break a toothpick in half and stick one of the halves through the design you cut out. Make sure the pointed end of your toothpick is on the blank side of the disk.

  4. You’ve made a top. Give the top a spin and watch the design on the top. What do you see?

  5. Repeat steps 2-4 with the other three circular designs. What do you notice about these designs as they spin?

How Does It Work

Hmmm… how does it work? That’s a really good question. We honestly don’t know for sure. No one does. But we’ve got some pretty good guesses.

The black and white circular design that you printed out and pasted to your cardboard is called Benham’s Disk. Benham’s Disk originated over 100 years ago and, when spun at the right speed, creates a changing pattern of light that is noticeable by your retina. Many scientists think that the visible pattern of light created by the disk resembles a “code” similar to what the brain receives when the eyes see color. The rapidly spinning black and white disk tricks the brain into seeing the colors. Crazy!

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