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Pick of the Week: Radiolab – Colors

May 26, 2012
Radiolab – Colors
Podcast release date: May 21, 2012
Hosts: Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich
Time: 1:08:50


I wasn’t sure how Radiolab would pull off a show about color using sound and no images. They start by looking at experiments Isaac Newton did with prisms, breaking light into the colors of a rainbow. Then, they ask how different organisms would perceive a rainbow, and enlisted the help of a choir to sing the rainbow as seen by a dog, human, sparrow, butterfly, and mantis shrimp. I can imagine the rainbow I saw last week, and the dog’s rainbow (mostly blue and green with a little yellow). However, I find it more difficult to imagine the rainbow of organisms that can perceive many more colors than I can. I was impressed by how well the rainbow chords sung by the choir gave me a sense of the relative richness of each organism’s rainbow, especially when they played the chords (dog, human, sparrow, butterfly) consecutively.

While the rainbow segment of the podcast (Rippin’ the Rainbow a New One) was my favorite, I also enjoyed their stories about a search for women with 4 cones (tetrachromat – most people have 3 cones for sensing color), monkeys who see red with some help from human genes, and how people have perceived the color of the sky through time.

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