Mar 29, 2017 I Paul Seaburn

Glasses Give Superhuman Color Vision

If you’re looking for a superpower and feel that all of the good ones are taken, you may want to jump on this one before Hugh Jackman or Dwayne Johnson hear about it. Scientists have invented new glasses that allow the wearer to see more colors than normal humans, allowing them to not be fooled by camouflage and to easily spot counterfeit money. Sure, it’s not x-ray vision, but it could save lives and lead to some good-paying jobs.

They look exactly the same and you look through the spectacles and, holy crap, they’re two different things.

That non-scientific but perfectly clear description comes from physicist Mikhail Kats of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison. His specialty is experimental research in optics and he led the team (and authored the paper – not yet published) that developed the super-color-distinguishing glasses (make note: needs better name).

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Metameric colors as they look through special filters (top, middle) and unfiltered (bottom)

For those who haven’t used crayons in a while, the human eye has three types of cone cells that distinguish between the wavelengths of blue, green and red, making us trichromatic. Some animals have an extra cone cell (zebra finches and reindeer), making them tetrachromatic. Goldfish can also see ultraviolet, which is something to keep in mind if your aquarium is in the bedroom.

The subtle differences in between colors that keeps paint stores in business are caused by subtle differences in wavelengths called metamers. That was the key. Starting with blue, the team created two blue filters, one for each eye, for slightly different parts of the blue spectrum. After placing them in eyeglass frames, they showed colors on PC and smartphone screens to the wearers that looked the same to the naked eye -- like those hundreds of blue chips at the paint store. With the glasses, the wearers easily told them apart.

That’s cool, but not quite enough for a superhero movie. Right now, the filters only work for blue, but Kats expects to have green ones ready soon and red eventually.

Oh, there’s one more twist. It’s believed that a very small number of people are born tetrachromatic without needing the special glasses. While it’s not understood how it happens, human tetrachromatics are predominantly women, which may explain why some are so much better than men at fashion and interior design.

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Do you need superpowers to find the owl?

Most guys are more like Kats, who can’t wait to try out the first full-spectrum pair of super-color glasses.

I really want to put these on and go walk around a forest or a park.

Probably after parting in some adult substances.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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