Encyclopedia of Color Science and Technology

2016 Edition
| Editors: Ming Ronnier Luo

Nickerson, Dorothy

  • Rolf G. Kuehni
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-8071-7_308


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, relationship between color stimuli and color perceptions, standardization of light sources, color tolerance specification, and others. Nickerson was born and raised in Boston and 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 US 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 in 1918 had taken over the firm from his father. In 1922, the firm moved to New York and in 1923 to Baltimore. In 1927, she was offered a position at the US 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 its use in agricultural and industrial settings.

Nickerson became the first individual member of the Inter-Society Color Council, founded in 1931. She was a lifelong member, received the organization’s Godlove Award, and had an award named after herself. She was a member of the US National Committee of the CIE and the International Association on Color where she received the first D. B. Judd AIC 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. Nickerson was the author and coauthor of some 150 articles and other publications [1].

Major Accomplishments/Contributions

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 (see portrait image, ca. 1930, US Government) and the conversion of disk mixture data into the CIE colorimetric system [2].

Standardization of light sources for color assessment and color rendering: In the late 1930s, a major occupation of her 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 [3].

Munsell color system and its colorimetric definition: In 1940, a technical committee of the Optical Society of America (OSA) began a study of the Munsell color system, improvements and extensions of the 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 results are known as the Munsell renotations, the specification of the aim colors of the current system. Nickerson prepared plots of the Munsell color stimuli in the CIE chromaticity diagram that remain in publication today [4, 5]. She also wrote an extended history of the Munsell system [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 fan for horticultural purposes [9]. Working with D.B. Judd, the chair of the OSA committee that developed the OSA Uniform Color Space, 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].


  1. 1.
    Bartleson, C. J., Luke, J. T.: Dorothy Nickerson, 1900–1985. Optics News. 11, 28–29 (1985)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Nickerson, D.: A Method for Determining the Color of Agricultural Products, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Technical Bulletin, Washington, DC 154, 32 p. (1929)Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Nickerson, D.: Artificial daylighting for color grading of agricultural products. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 29, 1–9 (1939)ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Newhall, S.M., Nickerson, D., Judd, D.B.: Final report of the OSA Subcommittee on the spacing of the Munsell colors. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 33, 385–418 (1943)ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wyszecki, G., Stiles, W.S.: Color Science, 2nd edn, pp. 853–861. Wiley, New York (1985)Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    (a) Nickerson, D. History of the Munsell color system and its scientific application. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 30, 575–585 (1940); (b) Nickerson, D.: History of the Munsell color system. Color Eng. 7, 42–51 (1969)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Nickerson, D.: The specification of color tolerances. Textile Res. 6, 505–514 (1936)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Nickerson, D., Stultz, K.F.: Color tolerance specification. J. Opt. Soc. Am. 34, 550–570 (1944)ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Nickerson Color Fan, produced by the Munsell Color Company beginning in 1957, with 262 color samples in 40 hues, no longer producedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Nickerson, D.: History of the OSA Committee on Uniform Color Scales. Optics News, Winter, 8–17 (1977)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CharlotteUSA