Color Science Doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree

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Earn a color science Ph.D. at the world's leading university for color science research and education. 


Outcome Rate of RIT Graduates


Color has been an intense topic of interest for thousands of years. Mathematicians, philosophers, physicists, physiologists, poets, and other disciplines have all contributed to our understanding of color. RIT’s color science Ph.D. program allows you to contribute to knowledge creation and practical application of color science. You will conduct extensive research that encompasses diverse fields and multiple disciplines of science.

As a generalization, color science can be defined as the quantification of our perception of color. Its mastery requires a multidisciplinary educational approach encompassing physics, chemistry, physiology, statistics, computer science, neuroscience, and psychology. Color science is used in the design and control of most man-made colored materials including textiles, coatings, and polymers and to specify such diverse materials as soil and wine. It is used extensively in color reproduction including digital photography, desktop and projection display, and printing. Color science is ubiquitous.

The program is designed for students whose undergraduate degrees are in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, engineering, neuroscience, experimental psychology, imaging, or any applied discipline pertaining to the quantitative description of color, for example, textiles, graphic arts, animation, material science, and polymer science. All students must earn 60 credit hours as a graduate student. For full-time students, entering with a baccalaureate degree, the program requires about four years of study at the graduate level.

Plan of Study

The curriculum is a combination of required courses in color science, elective courses appropriate for the candidate’s background and interests, a research project during the second year of study, and a research dissertation. Students must pass a qualifying examination during their second year of study and a candidacy examination at least one year prior to completing their dissertation. Candidates who wish to enter the program, but lack adequate preparation, might be required to complete undergraduate foundation courses in mathematics, statistics, computer science, and general science before matriculating with graduate status.

Core courses

The following core courses are completed during the first year of study: Principles of Color Science (CLRS-601), Computational Vision Science (CLRS-720), Color Physics and Applications (CLRS-602), Modeling Visual Perception (CLRS-820), Historical Research Perspectives (CLRS-750), and Research and Publication Methods (CLRS-751).


Elective courses are selected depending on the student’s interests and background. The program director must approve all electives.

Second year project

During the second year, students engage in graduate-level research under the supervision of a graduate program faculty member. The topic may or may not be the same as the dissertation topic. One of the purposes of this project is to evaluate the student’s research capabilities and suitability for doctorate-level research.

Years three and beyond

After completing the required courses, students follow their study plan which consists of research and thesis credits and elective courses.

Qualifying examination

All students must pass a qualifying examination, which determines whether the student has a sufficient depth of knowledge in color science and the ability to perform research at the doctoral level.

The qualifying exam consists of a written test and an evaluation of the second-year research project. The written test is given twice each year and is based on the core curriculum in color science and any material deemed appropriate by the committee. Note that the required readings for these courses include textbooks and current literature. An evaluation of the second-year research project includes depth of research, productivity, quality, analytical skills, and the ability to communicate results. A written document is submitted in the style of a published proceedings paper.

Students must successfully pass the qualifying examination to continue in the program. Those who do not pass the qualifying examination may make a written request to the color science program director to change to the MS program. Requests must be received before the end of the semester in which the second written test is taken. Students with permission to enter the MS program will use their second year research project as an MS research thesis topic. A written thesis is required. Students can then graduate with an MS in color science.

Dissertation research advisor and committee

After students pass the qualifying examination, a dissertation research adviser is selected from the graduate program faculty based on the student’s research interests, faculty research interests, and discussions with the color science graduate coordinator. A four-member dissertation committee is appointed for the duration of the student’s tenure in the program. The committee includes the dissertation research advisor, one other member of the color science faculty, and an external chair appointed by the dean of graduate education. The external chair must be a tenured member of the RIT faculty who is not a current member of the color science faculty. The fourth member may be an RIT faculty member or a professional affiliated with industry or another institution. The color science graduate program director must approve committee members who are not RIT faculty.

The dissertation committee prepares and administers the examination for admission to candidacy; assists in planning and coordinating research; provides research advice; supervises the writing of the dissertation; and conducts the final examination of the dissertation.

Developing a study plan

During the first semester of study, students work with the color science graduate program director to develop a study plan. This plan may be revised as necessary, subject to approval by the graduate program director. For example, the dissertation research adviser or the dissertation committee might recommend a revised study plan to include specific graduate electives.

Admission to candidacy

When the student thoroughly understands the dissertation research topic, the dissertation committee administers an examination to determine if the student can be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree in color science. The purpose of the examination is to ensure the student has the necessary intellectual skills and background knowledge to carry out their specific doctoral-level research project. The dissertation research adviser defines the type of examination and any requirements prior to the examination. Requirements include a dissertation proposal and may additionally include a review of literature, preliminary experiments, and the preparation of an oral presentation. The examination must be administered no later than one year prior to defending the dissertation.

Final examination of dissertation

Once the dissertation has been written, distributed to the dissertation committee, and the committee agrees to administer the final examination, the doctoral candidate can schedule the final examination.

The final examination of the dissertation is open to the public and is primarily a defense of the dissertation research. The examination consists of an oral presentation by the student, followed by questions from the audience. The dissertation committee may also elect to privately question the candidate following the presentation. The dissertation committee immediately notifies the candidate and the color science graduate program director of the result of the examination.

Teaching experience

All candidates for the Ph.D. must serve as a teaching assistant for a minimum of one course before scheduling the final examination of the dissertation. Candidates are encouraged to serve as a teaching assistant for two or more courses.

Public presentation experience

All candidates for the Ph.D. must present research in a public forum before scheduling the final examination of the dissertation. The preferred public forum is a technical conference.

Publication requirement

Prior to scheduling the Ph.D. dissertation defense (final examination), all candidates for the Ph.D. must have at least two refereed journal publications on the dissertation research accepted for publication (or published). The student must be a principal (not always first) author on both papers.

Color science MS graduates

Graduates from the color science master's degree program, who are interested in the doctoral program, should contact the color science graduate program director to discuss their suitability for doctoral-level research. Before matriculating into the program, students must pass the qualifying examination. Once the examination has been passed successfully, students can be admitted into the doctoral program. The doctoral degree can be completed on a full- or part-time basis as long as the residency requirements are met.

MS and MA graduates from related disciplines

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of color science, students with MS and MA degrees often apply to the Ph.D. program. Graduate courses in related disciplines can be used as elective courses toward the degree. Furthermore, for degrees that required a research thesis, the second year research project might be waived. Thus, it might be possible for students with graduate degrees in a related discipline to take the qualifying examination during their first year of study. The color science graduate program director determines the specific courses and credit hours that can be applied toward the Ph.D. in color science.


All students in the program must spend at least two consecutive semesters (summer may be excluded) as resident full-time students to be eligible to receive the Ph.D.

Time limitations

All candidates for the Ph.D. must maintain continuous enrollment during the research phase of the program. The maximum number of research credits that apply to the degree does not limit such enrollment. Normally, full-time students complete the course of study for the doctorate in approximately four years. Requirements for the degree must be completed within seven years of the date students pass the qualifying examination.

National Labs Career Fair

Hosted by RIT’s Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education, the National Labs Career Fair is an annual event that brings representatives to campus from the United States’ federally funded research and development labs. These national labs focus on scientific discovery, clean energy development, national security, technology advancements, and more. Students are invited to attend the career fair to network with lab professionals, learn about opportunities, and interview for co-ops, internships, research positions, and full-time employment.


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Curriculum for Color Science Ph.D.

Color Science, Ph.D. degree, typical course sequence

Course Sem. Cr. Hrs.
First Year
Principles of Color Science
Color Physics and Applications
This course explores the relationship between a material’s color and its constituent raw materials such as colorants, binding media, substrates, and overcoats. These can be determined using a variety of physical models based on absorption, scattering, luminescence, and interference phenomena. These models enable the production of paints, plastics, colored paper, printing, and others to have specific colors. Accompanying laboratories will implement and optimize these models using filters, artist opaque and translucent paints and varnishes including metallic and pearlescent colorants, and inkjet printing. Statistical techniques include principal component analysis and linear and nonlinear optimization. (Prerequisites: CLRS-601 or equivalent course.) Lecture 3 (Spring).
Computational Vision Science
Computational Vision Science This course provides an introduction to modern computer-based methods for the measurement and modeling of human vision. Lectures will introduce the experimental techniques of visual psychophysics including threshold measurement, psychometric functions, signal detection theory, and indirect, direct, and multidimensional scaling. Lectures will also introduce the MATLAB technical computing environment and will teach how to use MATLAB to run computer-based psychophysical experiments and to analyze experimental data and visualize results. Laboratory exercises will provide practical experience in using computer-based tools to conduct psychophysical experiments and to develop computational models of the results. Prior experience in vision science and/or scientific computing will be helpful but is not required. (Prerequisites: Graduate standing in CLRS-MS, IMGS-MS, CLRS-PHD or IMGS-PHD.) Lecture 3 (Fall).
Historical Research Perspectives
Historical Research Perspectives is a weekly forum in which students will learn about historical and classic topics in color science. The course focuses on journal club discussions of papers selected by the students and faculty. It also includes oral presentations from students, laboratory staff, and faculty as well as visiting speakers from within and external to RIT. Students will prepare their own oral presentations and written assignments based on the course readings and independent research. Students will develop professional skills required for formal scientific presentations and writing. (Prerequisites: Graduate standing in CLRS-MS or CLRS-PHD.) Seminar 1 (Fall).
Research and Publication Methods
Color Science Seminar II is a weekly forum in which students will learn about current research topics in color science. The course focuses on journal club discussions of papers selected by the students and faculty. It also includes oral presentations from students, laboratory staff, and faculty as well as visiting speakers from within and external to RIT. Students will prepare their own oral presentations and written assignments based on the course readings and independent research. Students will further develop professional skills required for formal scientific presentations and writing. A draft thesis or dissertation proposal will also be prepared. (Prerequisites: CLRS-750 or equivalent course.) Seminar 2 (Spring).
Modeling Visual Perception
This course presents the transition from the measurement of color matches and differences to the description and measurement of color appearance in complex visual stimuli. This seminar course is based mainly on review and student-led discussion of primary references. Topics include: appearance terminology, appearance phenomena, viewing conditions, chromatic adaptation, color appearance modeling, image appearance, image quality, and material appearance. (Prerequisites: CRLS-601 and CLRS-720 or equivalent courses.) Lecture 3 (Spring).
Second Year
Research & Thesis (and/or Electives)
Masters-level research by the candidate on an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor. (Enrollment in this course requires permission from the department offering the course.) Thesis (Fall, Spring, Summer).
Third Year
Research & Thesis (and/or Electives)
Masters-level research by the candidate on an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor. (Enrollment in this course requires permission from the department offering the course.) Thesis (Fall, Spring, Summer).
Fourth Year
Research & Thesis (and/or Electives)
Masters-level research by the candidate on an appropriate topic as arranged between the candidate and the research advisor. (Enrollment in this course requires permission from the department offering the course.) Thesis (Fall, Spring, Summer).
Total Semester Credit Hours


Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the Ph.D. program in color science, candidates must fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) of all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (or equivalent).
  • Submit scores from the GRE.
  • Submit a one-page personal statement of educational objectives.
  • Submit a current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Submit two letters of recommendation from academic or professional sources directly to RIT. Letters must be confidential.
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 94 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 7.0 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions
  • Participate in an on-campus interview (when possible).

Candidates without adequate undergraduate work in related sciences must take foundation courses prior to matriculation into the graduate program. A written agreement between the candidate and the program director will identify the required foundation courses. Foundation courses must be completed with an overall B average before a student can matriculate into the graduate program.

The foundation courses, representative of those often required, are as follows: one year of calculus, one year of college physics (with laboratory), one course in computer programming, one course in matrix algebra, one course in statistics, and one course in introductory psychology. Other science courses (with laboratory) might be substituted for physics.


Students receiving fully funded assistantships tend to have minimum undergraduate cumulative grade point averages of 3.5 and exceptional GRE scores. International applicants who must submit TOEFL scores, must have scores above 100 (internet-based). Students who submit IELTS scores must have a minimum score of 7.0. Applicants seeking financial assistance should contact the Office of Graduate and Part-time Enrollment for current application materials and deadlines.

Learn about admissions, cost, and financial aid 


Color science research at RIT encompasses such diverse fields as medical data visualization, computer graphics and animation, art conservation, spectral and spatial measurements of materials, color printing, digital photography, motion picture and television, and modeling of our perceptions for use in defining color quality. RIT has a long history of research and scholarship in color science dating back half a century.

Research in the color science Ph.D. program is performed under the auspices of the Munsell Color Science Laboratory. Visit the lab's webpage for more information.

Latest News

  • April 14, 2021

    professor pointing to projector image of colored lightbulbs.

    RIT Professor Mark Fairchild awarded Otto Schade Prize by Society for Information Display

    Professor Mark Fairchild, head of the Integrated Sciences Academy and director of the Munsell Color Science Laboratory and the program of color science in RIT’s College of Science, received the 2021 Otto Schade Prize, which recognizes vision scientists, human factor engineers, and engineers whose efforts have led to major improvements in the visual quality of electronic displays.

  • February 13, 2020

    four people holding Golden Brick awards.

    Four RIT faculty and staff alumni acknowledged with the Golden Brick Award

    Michelle Magee ’05 MS, senior associate director for Employment Engagement in the Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education; Hamad Ghazle ’88, director of the diagnostic medical sonography program; Kerry Hughes ’03 MS, project and events manager for the Office of the Provost; and David Long ’16 Ph.D., director of RIT MAGIC Center, and were honored with the Golden Brick Award for going above and beyond their duties to volunteer or serve in leadership roles at RIT.