John Dalton. 6 September 1766 – 27 July 1844. English physicist, chemist, meteorologist. Color blind person.

Life and Work:

1. In childhood, it transpired that it was no use sending John Dalton into the woods for ripe strawberries because any berries he brought were unfit for table. When the future scholar grew up, he figured out what the problem had been and found that he could not see the difference between the red and the green. In 1794, the physicist and chemist described his type of color blindness in a small book. Any and all color impairments have been named Daltonism in honor of John Dalton ever since.


2. If you think that Dalton’s scientific contributions are limited to the description of Daltonism only, you are mistaken. The works in different academic fields earned the provincial teacher the fame of probably the most reputable scholar of his time. The number of laws he discovered is impressive – the law of partial pressures named in his honor, the law of uniform expansion of gases when heated, the law of the gas solubility in liquids, and the law of multiple proportions.


3. Among the scientific contributions of the self-educated scientist are the discovery of polymerization as in the case of ethylene and butylene and the calculations of the atomic weight for several elements. The modest teacher John Dalton also introduced the notion “atomic weight.”


4. Born into the poor family of the weaver, he did not have good education. From the age of ten, John Dalton of Eaglesfield, Cumberland, had to work and received the first lessons from his Quaker father. But he was a capable boy. At the age of thirteen, he started giving lessons himself.


5. A tiny allowance of the second master made the young man search for a better life. When he was 15, Dalton was hired a school teacher in Kendal. In a modest box of a room where Dalton lived, he put a barometer on the wall and carefully recorded its readings every day. The scientist carried out meteorological observations throughout his life. Dalton made the last of dozens of thousands of entries on the day of his death.


6. Dalton wanted to study medicine or law but his Quaker parents, Protestants from the viewpoint of the official church, were strongly opposed to the English universities. So, he remained a self-taught scholar, although Dalton was lucky – John Gough, a blind scientist, was generous to share his scientific knowledge with him and taught him Latin and Greek. In turn, Dalton helped Gough – he read for him, wrote his thoughts and calculations.


7. Dalton took his manuscript, Meteorological Observations and Essays, to Manchester where he started teaching at the college, which now relocated to Oxford and became part of the local university. Dalton remained the most famous professor of the college of the Mancunian time.


8. Meteorological Observations and Essays became the scientist’s first publication. In this paper, Dalton described many devices and postulated several ideas which would then direct him to new discoveries.


9. In Manchester, Dalton became the most expensive private teacher. The work took Dalton a couple of hours a day while the rest of his time was dedicated to science.


10. Dalton once shocked his mother by giving her ruby red stockings. Neither he, nor his brother saw any indecency in this present as stockings appeared dark blue to them. Because both brothers suffered from Daltonism.


11. “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 color, which descends pretty uniformly from an intense to a rare yellow,” Dalton wrote. He found the problem when he got interested in botany. Dalton saw that the flower which appeared sky blue in the sunlight looked dark red in the light of the candle. The people around the scholar other than his blood brother did not observe this phenomenon. This is how Dalton discovered the color-vision defect which is called Daltonism and understood that it could be passed onto other generations.


12. Dalton’s areas of expertise boggles the imagination – in addition to works on physics, chemistry, meteorology, he wrote papers dedicated to English grammar, specifically, auxiliary verbs and participles.


13. The outstanding scientist lived his entire life in Manchester apart from a short trip to Paris. For the 26 years prior to his death, Dalton lived in a modest room in the home of the botanist Johns. In the meantime, Dalton had a chance to see out-of-the-world parts. In 1818, the British government appointed him a scientific expert on Sir John Ross’s expedition to Greenland. Dalton refused to accept such high honor and preferred to continue his desk studies.


14. In his lifetime, Dalton became a member of the Royal Society of London and the French Academy of Sciences, a recipient of the    Royal Medal. His most famous student, James Prescott Joule, needs no introduction. Today, the student and his home mathematics, chemistry and physics teacher look at each other at the Manchester Town Hall. Dalton’s statue was carved while he was still alive – a truly unique case in the world of science.


15. Much of Dalton’s written work, collected by the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society that Dalton was once president of, was damaged during bombing in 1940. “John Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war,” Isaac Asimov said. The damaged papers are in the John Rylands Library in Manchester.


16. Dalton believed that his vitreous humor possessed an abnormal blue tint, causing his anomalous color perception, and he gave instructions for his eyes to be examined on his death, to test this hypothesis. After his death, his assistant Joseph Ransom opened his eye balls to find that the vitreous humor was absolutely transparent. A century and a half later, the secret was solved as the Cambridge physiologists examined Dalton’s eye balls kept at the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society. The gene analysis of cone cells responsible for the color vision showed that Dalton had been a deuteranope, meaning that his vision defect was due to the pigment responsible for medium light wavelengths.