The Father of Full Spectrum Light

John Ott, PhD used the word “serendipity” to describe how his part-time hobby in time-lapse photography sprouted into a pioneering career in the new field of photobiology. As far back as 1927 Dr. Ott spent his free time photographing plants under fluorescent lights in his basement and filling his kitchen pantry with hundreds of reels of film. His time-lapse sequences showing flowers opening and fruits ripening were used in several Walt Disney nature documentaries which aired on the first Chicago television station and in the feature film, “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.”

In the course of his work for Disney, Dr. Ott often had trouble coaxing seedlings to grow, or blossoms to form, as in the case of a stubborn pumpkin vine which would produce only all male or all female flowers, depending on what type of lighting the plant received, and which would die before reaching maturation.

Intrigued by the possible connection between varying light waves and plant growth patterns, the amateur scientist built a plastic-walled greenhouse in his backyard, and there the experiments continued, augmented by an impressive array of photographic lights, set to turn on automatically for each time-lapse frame. Ott was so astounded by his findings over the next few years that he carried his theories over into the animal world. Impressed with his results, Loyola University awarded him an honorary doctorate in science.

Encouraged by his continuing success Ott founded The Environmental Health & Light Research Institute to coordinate his ongoing studies into the way in which light can, in the proper spectral balance, enhance the health of plants and animals. In time, Ott turned his attention towards monitoring the beneficial effects of full spectrum lighting on certain human physiological conditions. It was about this time that Dr. Ott developed the first full spectrum fluorescent tube which he called Vitalite and which was brought to market by DuroTest Inc. based in his home town of Chicago, Illinois.

At the time, Dr. Ott’s research efforts generally met with polite indifference from the scientific community but he soon began to attract attention from a wider public audience with his theory of mal-illumination, a condition Ott likens to malnutrition, which has been brought about by shielding ourselves with such things as tinted windows, windshields and sunglasses we have unintentionally limited our intake of full-spectrum daylight. Over the last fifty years the “three screens” syndrome (cinema, television, computer) has relentlessly driven the human race indoors depriving them of their natural light environment. Working with manufacturers, Ott went on to develop an indoor lighting system to mimic the full-spectrum range of natural sunlight, and to devise experiments using the special fixtures. In 1988, Dr. Ott licensed the use of his patented technology to OTT bioLIGHT SYSTEMS, inc

Published works of John Ott:

My Ivory Cellar, (time lapse photography) 1958 Health & Light 1973 Light, Radiation and You 1982