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John Dalton: The Father of Color Blindness

John Dalton: The Father of Color Blindness

John Dalton, a chemist, physicist, and meteorologist was best known for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry. He was also the first scientist to study color blindness, publishing a paper on the topic, entitled, Extraordinary Facts Relating to the Vision of Colours with Observations. After discovering his own color blindness, he began conducting rudimentary tests on his friends to see if they shared his color vision impairment. His observations contributed to the discovery of what we now call color vision deficiency (CVD) or more commonly known as color blindness.

That part of the image which others call red, appears to me little more than a shade or defect of light; after that, the orange, yellow and green seem one colour, which descends pretty uniformly from an intense to a rare yellow, making what I should call different shades of yellow.

By Henry Roscoe (author), William Henry Worthington (engraver), and Joseph Allen (painter) - Frontispiece of John Dalton and the Rise of Modern Chemistry by Henry Roscoe, Public Domain, Link

Here are more facts and unknown information about John Dalton that you may not know:

  • Dalton was born September 6th, 1766 into a Quaker family in Cumberland, England.
  • September 6th is also International Color Blind Awareness Day! This day was chosen to rally the cause of color blind awareness because it coincides with John Dalton’s birthday.
  • His family were Dissenters, Protestant Christians who separated from the Church of England, and because this barred him from attending a formal university, he received personal instruction from John Gough, a blind philosopher who was gifted in the sciences and arts.
  • Dalton believed that his color blindness was due to a discoloration in his aqueous humour, believing it was bluish, filtering colors incorrectly (this turned out to be incorrect).
  • Color blindness is often called ‘Daltonism’ internationally as a reference to John Dalton.
  • Dalton’s brother was the only person he knew that saw color in the same inaccurate way that he did (color blindness is inherited through the X chromosome).
  • After his death, his eyes were preserved for further study of his color blindness.
  • DNA from Dalton’s eye was analyzed in 1994 and contrary to earlier assumptions that he was most likely had protan-type color vision deficiency, according to his genetic analysis he was found be a strong deutan-type*.
  • In 1803, he published a scientific paper on the law of partial pressures of gas, now know as Dalton’s law of partial pressures.

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