Knut Nordby

1942  - 2005


Knut was called the most famous rod monochromat in the world, but he was also a scientist. Having this condition gave him great understanding of both sides of achromatopsia, the scientific and the personal experience. When Francis Futterman connected Knut Nordby with Oliver Sacks, neuroscientist and writer, the result was the amazing trip to the Island of the Color Blind and the book that not only chronicled their trip but brought an understanding of achromatopsia to the world.

“My first clear memories seem all to be connected with nights and evenings, or they occur indoors in subdued lighting. As far back as I can remember, I have always avoided bright light and direct sunlight as much as possible. Photographs taken of me, and my siblings, during our childhood normally show us with nearly shut eyes, usually looking away from the sun, except when photographers demanded that we look towards the sun for the pictures. As a child I preferred playing indoors with the curtains drawn, in cellars, attics and barns or outdoors when it was overcast, in the evenings, or at night.”

Knut Nordby  Vision of a Complete Achromat, A personal Account, Night Vision R.F. Hess, L.T. & K. Nordby


Knut Nordby passed away April 19, 2005 from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS. Knut continued to work to the very end when he lost his courageous battle with ALS. He faced his situation with great courage.

Knut was born in Norway in 1942. He had an exeptional life. During the World War II, his family had to flee from Norway, and the infant Knut was carried over the border in a backback. He grew up in Sweden, were his father found employment with the telecom manufacturer today known as Ericsson.

Knut was an achromat, being completely colorblind and highly sensitive to light as well. Well-meaning authorities sent him to a school for the blind. He ran away at eight years old, causing a big scandal and was happily expelled. Later his father became a representative for Ericsson in South America, and Knut was enrolled in an English school in Venezuela.  His family eventually moved back to Norway, where Knut studied at the University of Oslo, receiving a BS in Human Physiology (the Faculty of Medicine), an MA in Philosophy of Sciences (the Faculty of History and Philosophy) and a Magister Artium (the equivalent of a Ph.D.) in Psychology (Faculty of Social Sciences).

Following college, Knut worked for the Norwegian Armed Forces as Military Psychologist, his responsibilities being the development of aptitude tests and selection of personnel for various schools and training courses, especially the selection of fighter pilots. After being awarded a fellowship from the University of Oslo and receiving research grants from the Norwegian Research Council and the European Research Council (Twinning Grant), he worked for six years as Assistant Professor at the Institute of Psychology, University of Oslo.

His main research was in achromatic vision, where he had the unique vantage point as a scientist and the patient. Later he would be connected through Francis Futterman to Oliver Sachs, a New York based neurologist. He would travel with Oliver Sachs to an island in Micronesia, where the inhabitants had a high incidence of this otherwise rare condition of  achromatopsia. This trip resulted in a movie and a book: "The Island of the Color Blind".

In 1985, Knut joined the Research Institute of the Directorate for Telecommunications in Norway (now Telenor R&D) as Research Psychologist. He worked on various projects in telemedicine, distance education, the development of a video-telephone and, not least, on the development of telecommunication equipment and services for disabled and older people. He became Senior Research Scientist with responsibility for international standardization in human factors and usability. He was also teaching man-machine interaction and human factors at the University of Oslo. With co-authors Per Helmersen and Adam Balfour, he was awarded the 1997 "John Karlin Award" at the 16th HFT in Oslo. For more than a quarter of a century, he was a highly respected authority within the European accessibility community. He was a founding member of ETSI Technical Committee for Human Factors and became its Chairman in 1996.

He used his own experience with physical challenges to better understand achromatopsia and to help design solutions to the many obstacles that confront the visually impaired. His work in achromatopsia not only lead to a better scientific understanding of achromatopsia, but his personal accounts of having achromatopsia have helped thousands of achromatopsia patient’s better understand their condition.

Some Portions Adapted from COST 219 Tribute to Knut Nordby



"So when a great man dies
For years beyond our ken
The light he leaves behind him lies
Upon the paths of men."

- Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi



Knut Nordby's Story

Knut Nordby Publications Involving His Eyes