Joseph Brown (UCL) - 2016-17 Students

“The fuel of interest to the fire of genius”. Business, intellectual property, and the basic research laboratory. The Land experiments in colour vision – a case study

This study aims to understand the intellectual and practical context within which Edwin H. Land (1909-1991) produced his retinex theory of colour vision. Land is of course more popularly known as an inventor and technology entrepreneur – notably for the development of the Polaroid instant camera – but he was just as influential within the natural sciences. In a set of stunning experiments, Land proved – contrary to classical colour theory – that colour perception at any single point in the visual field is determined not only by the pattern of wavelength reflectance at that point, but by its relative reflectance compared with that of the entire surrounding scene. As a complementary objective, this study will examine the development of Land’s basic research laboratory, and analyse the conditions – legal, economic, and social – under which it existed. Land’s company seemed to embody his friend and colleague Vannevar Bush’s dream of the 20th century business-research complex, and served as an inspiration to later commercial technological innovators like Apple’s Steve Jobs who said of Land: “not only was he one of the great inventors of our time but, more important, he saw the intersection of art and science and business and built an organization to reflect that.”

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