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Color Photograph of Solar Spectrum by Gabriel Lippmann
  • Color Photograph of Solar Spectrum, c. 1908
  • Gabriel Lippmann
  • Lippmann process
  • National Museum of American History, Behring Center
  • Physical Sciences Collection
  • Image No. 1985.0521.03

Like nearly every other 19th-century physicist, Gabriel Lippmann believed in the wave theory of light, a premise that neatly explains how light can sometimes “interfere” and produce colors. According to this theory, some of the waves that make up white light collide and cancel each other out, leaving the others to produce colors. Lippmann employed this idea to design a film that would produce color in much the same way—instead of employing pigments, his film produced color by manipulating light waves. Although physicists did not widely adopt the complicated process, it was considered of great scientific importance because it offered an elegant verification of the wave nature of light, earning Lippmann the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1908.

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