Whatever Happened to Roy G Biv?

By Kathy Reeves
14 September, 2016

Image

Roy was considered dead long before I heard the news in 2010. He had been my friend for remembering the colors of the spectrum since I was in middle school. After I became a teacher, I introduced him to my students each year. He was a favorite member of the science classroom.

Imagine my surprise when I began product development on the Elementary Science Starters and learned that not only was he deceased, some people believe he never really existed. This topic came up again while working on our newest elementary product, the Science Sidekicks. Roy G Biv, a mnemonic for remembering red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, can't exist if color physicists don't recognize indigo as a color of the visible spectrum. If indigo isn't recognized by many optical physicists, then why was it included in the first place?

Isaac Newton was the first to describe the colors of the spectrum. He realized that when we use a prism to break apart light, we get the visual spectrum. We know that each color blends with its neighboring color, resulting in a gradual flow, so he could have easily named any number of colors. Apparently Newton decided on the number seven before determining the colors.

But why the number seven? In the 6th century BC, the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras applied numbers to things observed in the world. He determined that the seven musical notes had a relationship to mathematical equations and connected the seven heavenly bodies that were known at the time to mathematical patterns. His studies grew into a philosophy called Pythagoreanism. The number seven became a magical and mystical number that connected mathematics with natural phenomena.

Fast forward to Sir Isaac Newton. It's reported that he initially divided the spectrum into five colors: red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Then he considered the Pythagorean belief that color and music are connected. If there are seven different tonal notes in a musical octave, shouldn't there be seven colors of the spectrum? Insert orange and indigo and Roy G Biv was born.

Modern physics generally accepts a six-color spectrum. Indigo is omitted because few people can differentiate the wavelengths well enough to see it as a separate color.  The six-color spectrum also fits the model of the color wheel, with red, yellow, and blue being primary colors. Orange, green, and violet are secondary colors and are spaced between the primary colors. Indigo would be considered a tertiary color.

Which brings us back to Roy. I'm reluctant to let him ride off into the indigo-free sunset. What do you think about Roy G Biv, and how are you teaching the colors of the spectrum?

Subscribe to our blog to receive more teaching tips and free downloads.

Check out the Science Sidekicks (grades 3-5), the Science Starters (grades 6-8), Biology Starters or Chemistry Starters with a Free Trial!

Science Sidekick Demo Lesson (grades 3-5)

Science Starter Demo Lesson (grades 6-8)

Biology Demo Lesson

Chemistry Demo Lesson

Request a Quote

 

Comments

In my heart, soul and mind, "ROY G BIV" will live forever! It's the modern "satanists" that want to turn the lovely "7" into "6". To h311 with 'em!

Dixie

27 August, 2021 04:34 PM

Reply



there are millions of shades of colors within the color spectrum. just because you don't see them doesn't mean they shouldn't exist. i was taught that indigo was a color of the rainbow, and will always be in my book. i cant believe that there are people arguing about a color. it doesn't change anything whether its there or not, so if it's not broke, dont fix it.

Charles

22 July, 2021 12:16 PM

Reply



I read something online saying Cyan is on the color wheel now. I looked it up and found out good ol' Roy has passed away. But he will live on in our hearts and minds!

Bennett

20 June, 2021 02:45 PM

Reply



I am not an educator except of my own child(ren) - they are 15 years apart. But my opinion from when I learned Roy G. Biv was that Indigo was "in the way" it wasn't until I was explaining Roy to my older child that I really gave it any thought, because he was asking questions I hadn't asked. Now that I am learning of the sextet, it fits my brain better. Indigo is a lovely color, but the rainbow has six colors not seven. P.S. Pluto is a planet.

Martin

19 May, 2021 07:03 PM

Reply



Robert Mospan, you are very right. Indigo is a worthy color.

Elijah Ray

12 May, 2021 04:27 AM

Reply



Can you elaborate on "the news" you heard in 2010? Point me in the direction of some articles, papers, etc. I can read to better educate myself on this? Thanks! :)

Brianne

20 April, 2021 08:49 AM

Reply



Love it

Ruth

23 March, 2021 03:39 PM

Reply



Thanks for the info. I always wondered why indigo fell out of favor. I still teach the spectrum using Roy and I explain that indigo isn't included any more. We always pretend to be sad and when we recite the colors we either whisper or yell "indigo", like a kind of protest. The class gets a kick out of it. So in that way, Roy G Biv lives on.

Robert Mospan

18 January, 2021 06:07 PM

Reply



         
Back To Scientific Minds Home

Subscribe

To receive email notifications, enter your email address and click subscribe.We will never share your information.

Blog Search