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Colour, Light and Health at Leeds Light Night

by Adam Pursell, North of England Region Honorary Secretary

This year saw continued success on the back of last year’s Leeds Light Night, with the SDC holding two events on the Friday night. SDC’s Colour Experience team were at the Merrion Centre ‘painting with light’, meanwhile the North of England region held a lecture titled ‘Colour, Light and Health’ at the University of Leeds.

The evening started with light refreshments and conversation, enjoyed by the over 60 in attendance. The audience moved into the Speakman Theatre and took their seats. After a short introduction from Head of School of Design Chris Carr, Professor Steven Westland took the floor.

SDC President-elect Prof Westland highlighted his fascination with the idea of colour, the idea that such a small ‘invisible’ section of the electromagnetic spectrum can have such an impact on everything that happens on earth. He mentioned how we only have ‘daylight’ because the sun’s invisible rays are scattered by particles in our atmosphere.

Prof Westland talked through correlated colour temperature and how there is often a misconception around this. Red is perceived as being a hotter colour than blue, but if you heat something up, the object will turn from red to blue with more heating.

It was claimed that a staggering 1/50 people will get skin cancer, as harmful UVA and UVB rays get through the ozone layer. The only difference between these harmful rays and ‘visible rays’…wave length and photon size.

Something that people found very interesting was the link between light therapy and migraines. It has been proven that migraines can be treated with colour/light therapy, even in the case of blind people! Exposure to green light will reduce the effects of a headache or migraine.

In 1960s USA, people had on average at least six hours of sleep. In 2010, 30% of people had less than six hours of sleep. Poor sleep has been linked to; obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, stroke and cancer. In an ideal situation, there would be daylight, and no light, as evolution and primitive life prescribed. Given this, the eye has two functions; image forming and non image forming. The non image forming is responsible for detecting the light conditions of our environment, triggering the release of either cortisol or melatonin. Cortisol is the stress hormone, and melatonin is the relax hormone. Melatonin is released around 9.00pm, triggering us to want to sleep. If this is blocked by external conditions (spectral blue light found in phones/tablets/office lights etc) then the body will not sleep properly. This series of events is so serious, that shift work has been identified as a known carcinogen, as melatonin is a cancer fighting anti-oxidant.

This was a truly fascinating talk by Steve, which highlighted that the ‘unknown’ about colour still very much outweighs the knowns, and that colour holds a strong link to our lives on every level possible. How we can assess and manipulate this still remains to answered.

The North of England region would like to thank Prof Steve Westland and the School of Design at Leeds University for hosting this very enjoyable event.

For details of future SDC events, please visit the website.

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