Robley D. Evans (physicist)

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Robley D. Evans
Born(1907-05-18)18 May 1907
Died31 December 1995(1995-12-31) (aged 88)
Alma materCalifornia Institute of Technology
BS in Physics
Known forRadium girls
Scientific career
Health Physics
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Massachusetts General Hospital
Doctoral advisorRobert Millikan

Robley Dunglison Evans (18 May 1907 – 31 December 1995) was an American physicist. He was born on 18 May 1907, in University Place, Nebraska and earned his doctorate at the California Institute of Technology in 1932. In 1934, he joined the faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he retired in 1972.

Evans died at the age of 88 of respiratory failure on December 31, 1995 in Paradise Valley, Arizona where he lived in retirement. Evans was survived by his wife and onetime colleague, the former Mary Margaret Shanahan of Paradise Valley, and three children. For all his efforts and research he is considered one of the founders of Nuclear Medicine.


  • 1928 California Institute of Technology, BS degree in physics
  • 1929 Masters in Science
  • 1932 PhD
  • 1934 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Assistant Professor
  • 1945 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Professor of Physics

Contributions to Nuclear Medicine[edit]

While Robley Evans was a graduate student at California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Los Angeles County Health Officer, Frank Crandall, was investigating the hazards that radium-containing patent medicines posed to the public health. These products were being manufactured in the Los Angeles area and any possible health effects were Crandall’s concern. Crandall contacted Evans’ supervisor, Robert Millikan, and this proved to be a pivotal moment in the young Evans’ life because he spent most of his career researching the physiological effects of radiological substances.[1]

After graduation Robley Evans worked at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was able to continue his research into radium poisoning. The scintillation cameras currently found in hospitals are the results from the first whole body counter to measure radium uptake using the radium dial painters. This first generation counter was used to conduct the first measurement of a radionuclide in the human body. He did not just use his expertise for measuring radium in the body. He sought to determine what effects radium had on the human body. These studies included the body’s metabolism, the hazards, and how to minimize any harmful side effects. In 1941 this research enabled Professor Evans to establish one ten-millionth of a gram (0.01 μCi) of radium as the "maximum permissible body burden" - the greatest quantity of a radioactive substance that the human body can tolerate without a likelihood of damage, allowing a large margin for safety.

Perhaps the greatest contribution Robley Evans made to the medical field was the use of radioiodine to assess human thyroid conditions without invasive surgery. This method was used from the 1930s to the 1980s and was counted as one of the medical community’s greatest tools for monitoring the health of patients.

Evans's accomplishments in medical physics included development of a technique to preserve human whole blood, research primarily undertaken for the benefit of wounded servicemen in World War II. By using as many as two radioactive forms of iron and one of iodine - a so-called "triple tracer" experiment - doctors could determine how well transfused blood cells remained in a recipient's blood stream. A chemical was found to preserve the blood for up to three weeks, the time it required to reach distant battlefields and subsequently was used in blood banks for several decades.

Memberships and Professional Involvement[edit]


Prior to 1984 this was called the Distinguished Achievement Award. Award consists of a plaque and Life Membership in the Society, now known as the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award. This award is designed to acknowledge outstanding contributions to the science and technology of radiation safety. The recipient of the award is recognized for accomplishments of fundamental importance to the practice, acceptance, and advancement of the profession of health physics. Other individuals who contributed in an outstanding way to the development of scientific knowledge for the protection of humankind and the environment can be permanently memorialized by the presentation of the award in their names.

This award recognizes an AAPM member for an eminent career in medical physics. It is the highest award given by the AAPM. No more than one award will be given in any year and the award does not have to be awarded every year.

Honors, Robley D. Evans Commemorative Medal[edit]

The Robley D. Evans Commemorative Medal is awarded by the Health Physics Society to recognize scientific achievement and other accomplishments as exemplified by the late Professor Robley Evans. This award is given in memory and honor of Professor Evans in recognition of his outstanding and extraordinary dedication and contributions to radiation safety as physics educator, scientist, author, and humanitarian for more than 50 years. The recipient of this award demonstrates the extraordinary qualities exemplified by Professor Evans for excellence in scientific achievement, interdisciplinary capabilities, the applicability of science to real-world needs of radiation safety, and insight into simple solutions of difficult problems. The Evans Medal is not intended to be given annually or frequently. The Health Physics Society Awards Committee has the discretionary power to not select an awardee in any given year.

HPS Robley D. Evans Commemorative Medal recipients


Select Publications

  • Evans, Robley D. (1933a), "Technique for the Determination of the Radioactive Content of Liquids", Rev. Sci. Instrum. 4 (216); doi:10.1063/1.1749104
  • Evans, Robley D. (1933b), "Radium Poisoning A Review of Present Knowledge", American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health 23 (10): 1017-1023
  • Evans, Robley D. and Raitt, Russell W. (1935a), "The radioactivity of the earth's crust and its influence on cosmic-ray electroscope observations made near ground level", Physical Review 48 (3): 171-176
  • Evans, Robley D. (1935b), "Apparatus for the Determination of Minute Quantities of Radium, Radon and Thoron in Solids, Liquids and Gases", Rev. Sci. Instrum. 6 (99); doi:10.1063/1.1751952
  • Gingrich, N.S.; Evans, Robley D.; Edgerton, Harold E. (1936), "A Direct‐Reading Counting Rate Meter for Random Pulses", Rev. Sci. Instrum. 7 (450); doi:10.1063/1.1752061
  • Evans, Robley D. and Alder, Robert L. (1939), "Improved Counting Rate Meter", Rev. Sci. Instrum. 10 (332); doi:10.1063/1.1751458
  • Evans, Robley D. (1949), "Shipping radioactive substances", Physics Today 2 (10): 20; doi: 10.1063/1.3066265
  • Curtiss, L.F.; Evans, R.D.; Johnson, W.; & Seaborg, G.T. (1950), "Units of radioactivity", Physical Review 77(1): 142
  • Davisson, Charlotte Meaker; and Evans, Robley D. (1951), "Measurements of gamma-ray absorption coefficients", Physical Review 81 (3): 404-411
  • Baker, W.H.; J.B. Bulkley; R.A. Dudley; R.D. Evans; H.B. McCluskey; J.D. Reeves Jr; R.H. Ryder; L.P. Salter and Mary M. Shanahan (1961), "Observations on the late effects of internally deposited mixtures of mesothorium and radium in twelve dial painters", New England Journal of Medicine 265 (21): 1023-1028
  • Evans, Robley D. (December 1962), "Remarks on the Maximum Permissible Deposition of Plutonium in Man, and the Safety Factors in the Pivot Point Radiation Protection Guide of 0.1 µc of Radium in Man", Health Physics 8 (6): 751-752
  • Gallaghar, R.G.; Evans, R.D. and McAllister, R.G. (1963), "Testing radium capsules for radon leakage", Am. J. Roentgenol., Radium Therapy Nucl. Med. 90
  • Evans, Robley D. (1966), "The effect of skeletally deposited alpha-ray emitters in man (Silvanus Thompson Memorial Lecture)", The British Journal of Radiology 39 (468): 881-895
  • Evans, Robley D. (March 1967), "The Radium Standard for Boneseekers-evaluation of the Data on Radium Patients and Dial Painters", Health Physics 13 (3): 267-278
  • Evans, Robley D. (August 1969), "Engineers' Guide to the Elementary Behavior of Radon Daughters", Health Physics 17 (2)
  • Evans, Robley Dunglison; Keane, A.T.; Kolenkow, R.J.; Neal, W.R. and Shanahan, Mary Margaret (1969), "RADIOGENIC TUMORS IN THE RADIUM AND MESOTHORIUM CASES STUDIED AT MIT", Cambridge, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • McAllister, R.G.; Reist, Parker C.; Evans, Robley D. and Wallhausen, C.W. (April 1973), "Particle Size Distribution of Radium-Containing Phosphor Powders", Health Physics 24 (4): 430-433
  • Evans, Robley D. (1974), "Radium in Man", Health Physics 27 (5): 497-510
  • Evans, Robley D. (June 1980a), "Radium Poisoning", Health Physics 38 (6): 899-905
  • Evans, Robley D.; Goodman, Clark (June 1980b), "Determination of the Thoron Content of Air and Its Bearing on Lung Cancer Hazards in Industry", Health Physics 38 (6): 920-928
  • Evans, Robley D. (1955), The Atomic Nucleus, New York: McGraw-Hill


  • “NS&T: History Hall of Fame” The American Nuclear Society.
  • Profiles in Radiation Protection: Allen Brodsky
  • Potential Radiation Exposure in Military Operations: Protecting the Soldier, Before During and After, Committee on Battlefield Radiation Exposure Criteria, Institute of Medicine,

National Academies Press, 24 May 1999, Science, Appendix C, Page 134. (William J. Bair, Ph.D.)

External links[edit]

  • "Prof. Robley D. Evans of MIT Dies at 88". January 4, 1996.