Unit Waves:
The Three Color Mystery

Four glass bottles filled with colored liquids (red, yellow, green, cream) with a question mark shadow superimposed above the bottle caps.
Students design ways to help those who are color blind
Copyright © 2004 Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052-6399 USA. All rights reserved


Students are presented with a challenge question concerning color blindness and asked to use engineering principles to design devices to help people who are color blind. Using the legacy cycle as a model, this unit is comprised of five lessons designed to teach wave properties, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the anatomy of the human eye in an interactive format that introduces engineering applications and real-world references. It culminates with an activity in which student teams apply what they have learned to design devices that can aid people with colorblindness in distinguishing colors— as evidenced by their creation of brainstorming posters, descriptive brochures and short team presentations, as if they were engineers reporting to clients. Through this unit, students become more aware of the connections between the biology of the eye and the physical science concept of light, and gain an understanding of how those scientific concepts relate to the field of engineering.
This engineering curriculum aligns to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Engineers use the properties of waves in the design of everyday tools. Rearview mirrors, x-ray machines, and microwaves are examples of technologies that rely on an understanding of waves. When engineers work with ophthalmologists and optometrists to design eyeglasses, as another example, they apply their knowledge of light waves to the interactions light has with human eyes, so that they can customize solutions for individual deficiencies. Engineers of all disciplines employ the steps of the engineering design process in order to create innovative, effective and efficient solutions to human challenges.

Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

See individual lessons and activities for standards alignment.


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Unit Schedule

Two columns: Estimated Time Required, Unit Schedule. Lesson 1: The Three Color Mystery (50 minutes), Lesson 2: Waves and Wave Properties (100 minutes), Lesson 3: Light Properties (150 minutes), Lesson 4: Exploring the Electromagnetic Spectrum (50 minutes), Lesson 5: Understanding the Structure of the Eye (30 minutes) and the concluding activity: Waves Go Public! (100 minutes).

More Curriculum Like This

Middle School Activity
Developing & Presenting Design Solutions: Waves Go Public!

Students apply everything they have learned over the course of the associated lessons about waves, light properties, the electromagnetic spectrum, and the structure of the eye, by designing devices that can aid color blind people in distinguishing colors. They create posters to display their three d...

Middle School Lesson
Understanding the Structure of the Eye

Students learn about the anatomical structure of the human eye and how humans see light, as well as some causes of color blindness. They conduct experiments as an example of research to gather information.

Middle School Lesson
Biomedical Devices for the Eyes

Students examine the structure and function of the human eye, learning some amazing features about our eyes, which provide us with sight and an understanding of our surroundings. Students also learn about some common eye problems and the biomedical devices and medical procedures that resolve or help...


© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2010 Clemson University


Ellen Zielinski; Courtney Faber; Marissa H. Forbes, through Clemson University's "Engineering Fibers and Films Experience – EFF-X" Research Experience for Teachers Program, National Science Foundation grant no. EEC-0602040

Supporting Program

Research Experience for Teachers (RET) Program, Center of Advancement of Engineering Fibers and Films, Clemson University


This unit was developed through Clemson University's "Engineering Fibers and Films Experience – EFF-X" Research Experience for Teachers program, funded by National Science Foundation grant no. EEC-0602040. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: January 12, 2019

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