J. M. Robson

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John Michael ‘Rab’ Robson
Born 1900
Died 1982
Alma mater University of Leeds
Known for Mutagenesis
Neutron Beta decay
Scientific career
Fields Medicine
Institutions University of Edinburgh
Guy’s Hospital Medical School
National Research Council of Canada

John Michael 'Rab' Rabinovich, later known as Prof John Michael Robson FRSE FRCS FRCSE LLD (1900–1982) was a geneticist and physicist who co-founded the science of mutagenesis by mutations in fruit flies exposed to mustard gas, and who first observed neutron beta decay.


Born in Belgium to a Russian Jewish family, Rabinovich came prior to World War I in England, where he attended school in Leeds.

He studied Science at Leeds University graduating BSc in 1922 then took a second degree in Medicine graduating MB ChB in 1925. In 1929 he joined the staff of the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh alongside Alan William Greenwood. In 1934 he began lecturing in Pharmacology at Edinburgh University.

He changed his name to Robson, and was appointed assistant to Bertold Wiesner at the Institute of Animal Genetics in the University of Edinburgh. In 1932 he was appointed lecturer at the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Edinburgh, and thereafter pharmacology became his specialism, though he maintained a strong interest in hormone research. In addition to studies of the effects of hormones on the human uterus, he also worked on toxicology and chemotherapy.

Along with Charlotte Auerbach and A.J. Clark, Robson discovered in 1940 that mustard gas could cause mutations in fruit flies, founding the science of mutagenesis.[1][2] He continued earlier research on sex hormones[3] when he moved to the Pharmacology Department at London’s Guy’s Hospital Medical School in 1946, but grew more interested in the similar effects of exposure to mustard gas with exposure to X-rays.[4] J.M. Robson's pharmacological research paved the way for the development of the contraceptive pill in the 1960s. Whilst there he undertook research on the effects of gonadotrophins in pregnancy, and also supervised the Pregnancy Diagnosis Station that had been founded by the Institute's director Professor Francis Crew.

In 1932 he received an honorary doctorate (DSc) from the University of Edinburgh and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Francis Albert Eley Crew, Bertold Wiesner, Alan William Greenwood, and Sir Edward Albert Sharpey-Schafer.[5]

In 1946 he moved to London as a Reader in Pharmacology at Guy's Hospital Medical School, and was given a professorship there in 1950. Here he focussed upon endocrinology.[6]

He retired in 1968, being then created an Emeritus Professor to Guys, and he died in London on 18 February 1982 aged 79.


  • Recent Advances in Sex and Reproductive Physiology (1934)
  • Recent Advances in Pharmacology (1950)


Robson married Sarah Benjamin in September 1930 in Leeds.


  1. ^ Charlotte Auerbach, J. M. Robson, & J. G. Carr, Chemical Production of Mutations, Science 105:243-247 (Mar 1947).
  2. ^ Geoffrey Beale, The Discovery of Mustard Gas Mutagenesis by Auerbach and Robson in 1941, Genetics, V134, pp. 393-399 (Jun 1993).
  3. ^ J. M. Robson and B. P. Wiesner, The Causation of Mucification and Cornification in the Vagina of the Mouse, Q. J. Exp. Physiol., V21, pp. 217 (1931).
  4. ^ J. M. Robson, Rev. Sci. Instrum., V19, p. 865 (1948).
  5. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  6. ^ http://www.aim25.com/cgi-bin/vcdf/detail?coll_id=12205&inst_id=20&nv1=browse&nv2=sub