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This model lets users interactively explore how the human eye interprets colors for various combinations of red, green, and blue light (RGB). The first simulation features three monochromatic lights in red, blue, and green. Use the slider to control the intensity of each color to see what colors will be perceived by human vision (which is sensitive to light in the R, G, and B wavelengths). The second simulation lets users apply a filter to white light or to any wavelength of color and examine how the filter determines what colors pass through to the eyes. Note: This resource has been rewritten to HTML5, making it more versatile for use in all major browsers, mobile devices, and tablets.

This resource is part of a large collection of free-access simulations by the Physics Education Technology Project (PhET) for use in STEM education from K-12 through graduate level. The simulations were designed using principles based on physics education research and refined based on student interviews and classroom testing.

Additional context for this material is provided by the ComPADRE-SERC Pedagogic Service.
Editor's Note: Supplemental Resources: Registered PhET users also have access to teacher-created lesson plans, student guides, and assessment pieces developed specifically to accompany the "Color Vision" simulation. Registration is easy and free.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
- Color
= Synthesis and Analysis of Color
- The Eye
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Middle School
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Lesson Plan
- Activity
- Laboratory
- New teachers
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Access Rights:
Free access
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder:
PHET and University of Colorado
Link to Material
Link to Material
Photons, Radiation, Spectrum, White Light, addition, filters, white, Light, color, color perception, filter, human vision, interactive multimedia, light, monochromatic beam, vision
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created October 30, 2006 by Gifford Weber
Record Updated:
December 28, 2017 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 30, 2017
Other Collections:

Next Generation Science Standards

From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (4-LS1)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (4)
  • Use a model to describe that animals' receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond to the information in different ways. (4-LS1-2)

Waves and Their Applications in Technologies for Information Transfer (MS-PS4)

Students who demonstrate understanding can: (6-8)
  • Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials. (MS-PS4-2)

Disciplinary Core Ideas (K-12)

Electromagnetic Radiation (PS4.B)
  • When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object's material and the frequency (color) of the light. (6-8)
Information Processing (LS1.D)
  • Different sense receptors are specialized for particular kinds of information, which may be then processed by the animal's brain. Animals are able to use their perceptions and memories to guide their actions. (4)
  • Each sense receptor responds to different inputs (electromagnetic, mechanical, chemical), transmitting them as signals that travel along nerve cells to the brain. The signals are then processed in the brain, resulting in immediate behaviors or memories. (6-8)

Crosscutting Concepts (K-12)

Patterns (K-12)
  • Macroscopic patterns are related to the nature of microscopic and atomic-level structure. (6-8)
Structure and Function (K-12)
  • Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the relationships among its parts, therefore complex natural structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function. (6-8)

This resource is part of 2 Physics Front Topical Units.

Topic: Nature and Behavior of Light
Unit Title: Visible Light and Color

A great Java-based activity to help middle schoolers understand how the three primary colors of light (red, green, and blue) combine to produce multiple colors.  In one simulation, students can adjust the intensity of each color.  In the second, they can add filters to see what happens to the resulting color.  The PhET team created an excellent lesson to go with this simulation.  Find it directly below.

Link to Unit:

Topic: Nature and Behavior of Light
Unit Title: Visible Light and Color

Interactive Simulation                                                                 Grades 9-12
How do the primary colors of light combine to produce the vast array of colors we perceive?  In this simple, yet elegant simulation, students control three monochromatic lights of varied intensity to produce multiple colors.  They can also add filters and see what colors pass through to the eyes.  The PhET team created a companion assessment/worksheet to go with this simulation.  Find it directly below.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
, Version 1.0 (PhET, Boulder, 2017), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision).
PhET Simulation: Color Vision, Version 1.0 (PhET, Boulder, 2017), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: Color Vision. (2017, November 30). Retrieved September 25, 2023, from PhET: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision
Chicago Format
PhET. PhET Simulation: Color Vision. Boulder: PhET, November 30, 2017. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision (accessed 25 September 2023).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: Color Vision. Vers. 1.0. Boulder: PhET, 2017. 30 Nov. 2017. 25 Sep. 2023 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: Color Vision}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2023}, Number = {25 September 2023}, Month = {November 30, 2017}, Year = {2017} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: Color Vision %D November 30, 2017 %I PhET %C Boulder %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision %O 1.0 %O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D November 30, 2017 %T PhET Simulation: Color Vision %I PhET %V 2023 %N 25 September 2023 %7 1.0 %8 November 30, 2017 %9 text/html %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/color-vision

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PhET Simulation: Color Vision:

Accompanies PhET Teacher Ideas and Activities: Color Vision (or Seeing Colors)

This is a problem set designed specifically for use with the simulation Color Vision.  Appropriate for use in grades 6-12, it guides students in color addition and subtraction as they use the simulation.

relation by Caroline Hall
Accompanies PhET Teacher Ideas and Activities: Introduction to Light & Color

This is a problem set developed specifically by the PhET team for use with the simulation "Color Vision".  It is appropriate for use in the high school physical science or physics classroom.

relation by Caroline Hall
Is a Student Extra Of Physics Classroom: Color Addition

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