12-Year-Old Wins $25,000 Science Prize for Research on ‘Imaginary Colors’

imaginary colors

A 12-year-old girl from Chappaqua, New York won $25,000 at the Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering as Rising Stars), a Society for Science and the Public program, for her research into imaginary colors.


Ishana Kumar was one of 30 finalists recognized in the program, according to National Public Radio. She took home the Samueli Foundation Prize of $25,000 on Oct. 21.

Screenshot via SocietyforScience

The seventh-grader explored the possibility of how to change someone’s perception of imaginary colors using Benham’s top, a disk with white and black patterns that causes observers to see different colors when it spins to create retinal fatigue.

Due to the pandemic, she used a small testing sample of 10 friends and neighbors to run her experiment.

Screenshot via SocietyforScience

Kumar explained that if a person looked at a red object for a long time then stared at a sheet of white paper, the shape of the object would be projected onto the paper but the color would be green.

She added that cells in human eyes, called cones, detect red colors. However, when triggered for a long period of time, the green cones that detect green will take over when the eyes are fatigued.

“I wanted to see, if I could temporarily saturate someone’s eyes, would this change our perception of imaginary colors,” she explained.

imaginary colors
Screenshot via SocietyforScience

Kumar had to conduct her experiment on a smaller scale inside her garage amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In her experiment, she asked 10 of her neighbors and friends to look at the spinning top. Then, she makes them look at brightly-colored lights before looking at the spinning top again.

imaginary colors
Screenshot via SocietyforScience

The young scientist aims to conduct the same experiment on a larger scale in a lab with controlled lighting. She also aims to continue her research to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

“To compete and bond as a dynamic cohort has been made more challenging in the face of a worldwide pandemic, yet they [the young scientists] found a way to come together in competition and friendship,” Broadcom Foundation President Paula Golden said, as reported by Westchester Magazine. “They will forever be remembered for their enthusiasm and perseverance as young scientists and engineers.”

Golden believes that young scientists can make a difference in the world.

“Just creating a science project and going and doing what you’re passionate about, it might seem like something small but trust me it will be come something big very soon,” she said.

Feature Images via SocietyforScience

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