Student Research Projects

The Extremes of Color: Augmented Perception of Color Pigments via the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)

Student Teresa Gorman '15 (Sociology)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Art
Course Art 406: Advanced Drawing and Painting Lab


“Every perception of colour is an illusion…we do not see colours as they really are,”
Josef Albers. The goal of this project is to create a body of artistic work that would encourage the viewer to abandon his or her existing belief of what color is. How do you get the human brain to think of color in a different way? This research explores how the perception of color can be expanded through the use of the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and art. The SEM has the ability to produce magnified images well beyond the capability of the human eye. To represent color, various ground paint pigments were collected from prominent sources across the United States and photographed utilizing the SEM. The SEM black-and-white images were then selected to represent the different colors. Magnification of the pigments showed different physical properties and surface textures contrary to what scientists had anticipated from ground pigments. This unique imagery was used to create an installation of 28 photographs, enhanced with the inclusion of pigment samples to depict various colors under extreme magnification. Select images were then used as sources to produce 3 paintings utilizing the sample pigments. This research expands the viewer’s perception of color by means other than the traditional understanding of the visible light spectrum. This research has the potential for further exploration on the physical components of color and the expansion of this artistic body of work. This innovative approach may inspire future art researchers to consider the use of SEM in their creative process.


Virginia Wesleyan College Undergraduate Research Grant