Dorothy Nickerson

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Dorothy Nickerson

Dorothy Nickerson (August 5, 1900 – April 25, 1985) was an American color scientist and technologist who made important contributions in the fields of color quality control, technical use of colorimetry, the relationship between color stimuli and color perceptions, standardization of light sources, color tolerance specification, and others.[1][2]


Nickerson was born and raised in Boston, attended Boston University in 1919 and Johns Hopkins University in 1923. Later, she continued her education at summer courses and university extensions at Harvard University, George Washington University, and the Graduate School of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Her special interest was the science of color, then in significant development.


In 1921 Nickerson joined the Munsell Color Company as a laboratory assistant and secretary to A.E.O. Munsell who had taken over the firm from his father in 1918. In 1922 the firm moved to New York City and in 1923 to Baltimore. In 1927 she was offered a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture where she remained until her retirement in 1964. When she joined, color science and technology were without international standards and at the beginning of industrial use. Nickerson was instrumental in developing the technology and use in agricultural and industrial settings.

Nickerson in 1938, measuring the color of a cotton sheet

Color quality control of agricultural products In the late 1920s Nickerson worked on usage of disk color mixture to define the color quality of cotton and other agricultural products and the conversion of disk mixture data into the CIE colorimetric system of 1931.[3]

Standardization of light sources for color assessment and color rendering In the later 1930s, a major occupation was the development of defined light sources for visual assessment of color quality. Later, she was also active in the development and promotion of standard methods for the definition of color rendering of lights.[4]

Munsell color system and its colorimetric definition In 1940 a technical committee of the Optical Society of America began a study of the Munsell color system and its definition in the CIE colorimetric system. Nickerson was an important participant in this effort. The final report of the committee was authored by S.M. Newhall, D. Nickerson, and D.B. Judd and its result is known as the Munsell Renotations, the specification of the aim colors of the current system. Nickerson prepared plots of the Munsell colors in the CIE chromaticity diagram that remain in publication today.[5][6]

Color tolerance specification In 1936 Nickerson published the first color difference formula for industrial use, based on the addition of increments of Munsell hue, chroma, and lightness scale values. In 1943, together with Newhall, she published realistic representations of a three-dimensional perceptually approximately uniform optimal object color solid. In 1944, together with her assistant K. F. Stultz, she published a colorimetric color difference formula, known as the Adams–Nickerson–Stultz formula, that in modified form eventually became the CIE L*a*b* color space and difference formula.[7][8]

Color charts In the mid-1940s Nickerson was active in methods for assessing the color of soils, an effort that found its expression in the Munsell Soil Color Chart, still in use today. In 1957 Munsell issued the Nickerson Color Fan, a color chart for horticultural purposes.[9] Working with D.B. Judd, the chair of the OSA committee that developed the OSA Uniform Color Scales, Nickerson as a member of the committee was also a contributor to that effort for over 25 years and wrote a detailed history of the development of the system.[10]

Other activities and honors[edit]

Nickerson became the first individual member of the Inter-Society Color Council, founded in 1931, where she was a lifelong member, received the Godlove Award, and had an award named after herself. In 1970 she received the Gold Medal of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. She was a member of the US National Committee to the CIE and the International Association on Color where she received the first D.B. Judd Award in 1975. Nickerson was a trustee of the Munsell Color Foundation since 1942, was its president from 1973 to 1975, and assisted in the transfer of the foundation to the Rochester Institute of Technology in 1983 where it helped fund the then new Munsell Color Science Laboratory.[1]


Nickerson was the author and co-author of some 150 papers and publications, including Color measurement and its application to the grading of agricultural products, US Dept. of Agriculture Miscell.Publications 580, 1946, 62 p.


  1. ^ a b Bartleson, C. James; Luke, Joy T. (1985). "Dorothy Nickerson, 1900–1985, "prophetess of color"". Optics News. 11 (6).
  2. ^ Bartleson, C. James; Luke, Joy T. (May–June 1985). "Dorothy Nickerson, 1900–1985" (PDF). Inter-Society Color Council News (295): 1–3.CS1 maint: Date format (link)
  3. ^ D. Nickerson, A method for determining the color of agricultural products, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Technical Bulletin 154, 1929, 32 p.
  4. ^ D. Nickerson, Artificial daylighting for color grading of agricultural products, Journal of the Optical Society of America 29 (1939) 1–9.
  5. ^ S.M. Newhall, D. Nickerson, D.B. Judd, Final report of the OSA Subcommittee on the spacing of the Munsell colors, Journal of the Optical Society of America 33 (1943) 385–418.
  6. ^ G. Wyszecki, W.S. Stiles, Color science, 2nd ed., New York: Wiley, 1972, pp. 853–861.
  7. ^ D. Nickerson, The specification of color tolerances, Textile Research 6 (1936) 505–514.
  8. ^ D. Nickerson, K.F. Stultz, Color tolerance specification, Journal of the Optical Society of America 34 (1944) 550–570.
  9. ^ Nickerson Color Fan, produced by the Munsell Color Company, beginning in 1957, with 262 color samples in 40 hues, no longer produced.
  10. ^ Nickerson, Dorothy (Winter 1977). "History of the OSA Committee on Uniform Color Scales". Optics News: 8–17.

External links[edit]