Typical school science fair projects include a soda volcano, graphite circuit or a potato battery, but one 12-year-old from New York went beyond with a project that uses an optical illusion to understand our cognitive process.
Ishana Kumar, from Chappaqua, submitted the project – called Color Is in the Eye of the Beholder: The Role of Retinal Fatigue on Imaginary Fechner Colors –for this year’s Society for Science and Public’s Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology and Engineering for Rising Stars).
Kumar was awarded the Samueli Foundation Prize for her research, as well leadership, collaboration and critical thinking skills – all of which earned her a prize of $25,000.
Her project investigated whether retinal fatigue changes our perception of ‘imaginary colors,’ an illusion of color most commonly seen from a spinning black and white disk, called a Benham’s disk.
‘When they called my name I was in complete disbelief,’ Kumar said after hearing the results.
‘I was really grateful for everyone who had helped me and helped me get where I am.’
This year’s competition was the first to be held virtually to keep finalists and their families safe during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 3,476 projects were submitted from 42 states and Puerto Rico and 30 finalists were invited to the final round, with the hopes of hearing their named called – but it was Kumar took home the grand prize.
However, all of the finalists were awarded with more than $100,000 in awards total.
‘I have always been fascinated about how our complicated brains can be tricked by illusions,’ Kumar told Westchester Magazine.
‘I find it fascinating that illusions, as simple as spinning black and white patterns, can trick our complicated brain.’
‘The fact that we know that something isn’t real, yet we still perceive it, is really intriguing.’
For her research, Kumar had subjects look at the Benham’s disk, and then stare at a red, blue or green light.
Next, participants stared back at Benham’s disk, and determined whether the imaginary colors changed as a result of retinal fatigue, the phenomenon that occurs when someone stares at a brightly lit, colored area for a while.
Kumar’s research could lead to a better understanding of eye disease, our neural pathways as well as both color and cognitive processing.
‘My project is about changing the perception of imaginary colors,’ she explained in her presentation video.
‘Imaginary or freshener colors are an illusion of colors most commonly seen from a spinning black and white disc.’
Kumar set out to see if she could change these colors using retinal fatigue, which occurs when a person stares at an object for a long period of time.
Maya Ajmera, President & CEO of the Society for Science & the Public and Publisher of Science News, said: ‘Congratulations to Ishana, for her fresh take on the role of retinal fatigue on imaginary colors and the leadership she exhibited during the Broadcom MASTERS team challenges.’