Ragnar Granit

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Riihimäki, Finland
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Riihimäki, Finland

Ragnar Granit was a Finnish-Swedish scientist who won the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1967 for his discovery of the eye’s primary physiological and chemical visual processes. He shared the award with HaldanKeffer Hartline and George Wald. Granit, a highly educated and accomplished scientist and physiologist, was not initially drawn to medicine. Granit desired a career in psychology as a child. However, a conversation with his uncle inspired him to pursue a career in medicine, which eventually became his preferred field of study. Granit earned his bachelor’s and later doctorate degrees in medicine at Oxford, where he began his career. Granit made some of the most significant scientific breakthroughs and discoveries that transformed the science of the visual world at his alma mater (University of Helsinki). Granit held significant academic positions over the course of his two-decade career. He was a member of numerous professional societies and academies on an honorary basis. He stepped down as Professor Emeritus from Karolinska Institute in July 1967. As a patriotic Finn but also a devout Swedish, he stated that his Nobel Prize is split 50/50 between Sweden and Finland.

Childhood & Adolescence

Ragnar Arthur Granit was born in Helsinge, Finland on October 30, 1900, to Arthur Wilhelm Granit and Albertina Helena Malmberg. He was the couple’s eldest son, with two younger sisters named Greta and Ingrid Granit. His father worked as a forester.

When he was a child, the Granit family relocated to neighboring Helsingfors, where his father established a sylviculture and forest produce business.

Granit received her initial education at the Swedish Normallyceum. After completing his primary education, he enrolled at Helsingfors University and graduated in 1919. Meanwhile, while still a student, Granit fought in Finland’s War of Liberation in 1918. He was awarded the Fourth Cross of Freedom.

Granit considered a career in law after matriculation and even enrolled in a summer course at Abo Akademi University in philosophy and the Finnish legal language. The course provided a thorough grounding in psychology, a subject that piqued and captivated Granit.

Granit resolved to pursue a career in psychology as a result of her passion for the subject. Granit’s mind was changed, however, during a stroll with uncle Lars Ringborn. The latter advised Granit that reading psychology alone would be ineffective if he lacked biological knowledge. The conversation had a profound effect on Granit, who had decided to pursue a career in medicine.

He earned a Bachelor of Medicine degree from the University of Helsinki in 1924. He even earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, aesthetics, and chemistry. He earned a doctorate in medicine three years later. He wrote his thesis on color recognition theory.

Career of Rangar

Granit traveled to Oxford in 1928 following his doctorate to train under Sir Charles Sherrington. He desired to comprehend vision and discovered that the retina itself functions as a nerve center, processing visual information and transmitting it to the brain’s visual center.

Granit was a Fellow in Medical Physics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Johnson Foundation from 1929 to 1931. He continued bioelectric research as a medical physics researcher, utilizing Edgar Adrian’s electric measuring technique.

He returned to Oxford in 1932 as a Rockfelller Foundation Fellow. Granit returned to his alma mater, the University of Helsinki, in 1935, where he was appointed Professor of Physiology. He was formally appointed to the post two years later, in 1937.

Granit continued his electroretinogram bioelectric research on the visual nerve and theretina at the University of Helsinki. He expanded on Sherrington’s idea that nerve signals can either activate or inhibit the next nerve cell via the synapse. He became interested in demonstrating the presence of inhibiting synapses in the retina. He conducted the same experiment on a single nerve cell.

He continued his research into the physiological underpinnings of color perception. His research established that certain nerve fibers in the eye were not particularly selective for color. Indeed, they reacted identically across the entire spectrum. Other fibers, on the other hand, made a clear distinction between colors. Granit published these findings in 1937, thereby confirming the theory of color perception.

Granit and Gunnar Svaetichin discovered that the electric impulses generated in the retina, or electroretinogram, revealed that color sensitivity is concentrated primarily in three distinct groups in the blue, green, and red regions. Thus, he established the first biological evidence for Young-three-color Hemholz’s theory.

Granit received two offers in 1940, one from Harvard University and the other from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet. He accepted the latter and enrolled in the institute’s medical school. He was granted Swedish citizenship in 1941.

In 1945, the Karolinska Institute renamed his laboratory as the Medical Nobel Institute’s department. In the same year, he was appointed Director of Stockholm’s Nobel Institute for Neurophysiology.

Granit was appointed to a personal research chair in neurophysiology by the Ministry of Education in 1946. He stepped down as Professor Emeritus from the Institute in July 1967.

In 1947, he published ‘Sensory Mechanisms of the Retina,’ which became a seminal work in the field of ocular electrophysiology.

Granit initiated the series of international Nobel Symposia in 1965 as a contributor to and chairman of Nobel Symposium I, Muscular Afferents and Motor Control.

Significant Works of Rangar

Granit made the most significant contribution as a researcher in Oxford and Helsinki. He is still famous for his research into the internal electrical impulses that occur during vision processing.

He developed the theory of color vision, proposing that in addition to the three types of photosensitive cones (the retina’s color receptors that respond to different portions of the light spectrum), some optic nerve fibers are sensitive to the entire spectrum, while others respond to a narrow band of light wavelengths and are thus color-specific.Granit also demonstrated that light has the ability to both constrain and rouse impulses along the optic nerve.

Awards and Accomplishments

Granit has been recognized and awarded numerous times by numerous universities and research institutes in Finland and around the world. In 1961, he was awarded the Hans Cronstedt Prize, the Swedish Society of Physicians’ Jubilee Medal, the Anders Retzius Gold Medal, the F. C. Donders Medal, the Sherrington Memorial Gold Medal, the Purkinje Gold Medal, the Anders Jahren Prize for Medicine in the Nordic Countries, the Accademia di Medicina (Turin) St. Vincent Prize, and the Anders Jahren Prize for Medicine in the Nordic Countries.

He was awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries about the primary physiological and chemical processes of vision in the eye. He was presented with the award alongside Haldan Keffer Hartline and George Wald.

He was elected to numerous scientific academies, including the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (where he also served as President from 1963 to 1965), the Royal Society of London, the National Academy of Science, the Indian Academy of Science, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the AccademiaNazionaledeiLincei Rome, and the Accademia di Medicina Turin.

He was an honorary member of several professional societies, including the Swedish Societies for Neurology, Ophthalmology, and Clinical Neurophysiology, the International Society for Clinical Electroretinography, the Montevideo, Santiago de Chile, and Argentina Biological Societies, the Finnish Society for Ophthalmology, the American Physiological Society, the American Neurological Association, the Physiological Society of England, and the Finnish Society of Physicia.

Granit received numerous honorary doctorates from universities worldwide, including those in Oslo, Oxford, Lima, Bogotá, and Santiago, as well as Hongkong, Chicago, Pisa, Helsinki, and Göttingen. In 1985, the Academy of Finland bestowed upon him the title of Academician.

Granit has served as a Visiting Professor at a number of different educational institutions, including the Rockefeller Institute, St. Catherine’s College, and the University of the Pacific.

Personal History and Legacies

Granit married Baroness Marguerite (Daisy) Emma Bruun, daughter of Baron Theodor Bruun and Mary Edith Henley, a State Councillor. Michael W. Th. Granit was born to them. Granit died in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 12, 1991.

Estimated Net Worth

The net worth of Rangar is unknown.


Granit received the prize following his retirement in 1967 for ‘his work during his youth’, as he was a member of the Nobel Committee by virtue of his professional position. He stated that his Nobel Prize is split 50/50 between Sweden and Finland.