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Activity: How can light interactions be used to create art?

Make science come alive in your classroom with this free hands-on activity aligned to middle school NGSS standards.

Activity: How can light interactions be used to create art?

You may not have thought about physics the last time you admired a work of art. Still, we would not be able to enjoy art without the physics of light. Artists must consider how light will interact with their work, whether it is a drawing, painting, sculpture, or another art form. A beautiful painting or stained glass window doesn’t look like much in the dark!
In this activity students will investigate how light interacts with different materials. Then, they'll use their understanding of light and color to design a piece of art for a unique gallery.
Sunlight shines through stained glass windows, producing a multi-colored effect on the floor below.
A view of the interior of Nasir ol Molk Mosque located in Shiraz, Iran. Image credit: “Nasir-al molk -1" by Ayyoubsabawiki, Public Domain.


This activity is designed to be completed in two 45-minute class periods, with additional time required for follow-up creative projects. The activity consists of the following parts:
  • Setting the stage—Students review the fundamentals of light reflection, absorption, and transmission. (10 minutes)
  • Investigation—Students shine light on various materials and observe the amounts and colors of light which are reflected, absorbed, and transmitted in each case. (15 minutes)
  • Let's get creative!—Students imagine they are artists hired to create a piece of art to be displayed with white light shining on it from behind. Students sketch their design plans and explain how light will interact with their designs. (20 minutes) Finally, students create and display their art. (45 minutes)
  • Keep creating!—Students can choose from additional project ideas. Each project encourages students to combine scientific knowledge with creativity to produce something new.

Download the worksheets and get started today!

You can print out this activity or upload it to a digital classroom.

NGSS performance expectations

MS-PS4-2. Develop and use a model to describe that waves are reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through various materials.

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