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Charlotte Auerbach (1899–1994)

Author of The science of genetics

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Charlotte Auerbach was born in Krefeld am Rhein, Germany, to a cultured Jewish family of scientists. She grew up and went to school in Berlin, where she attended the Auguste-Victoria-Schule (Realgymnasium), a large girls' school. When she went to Berlin University in 1919, she took her father’s advice to attend various lectures during her first term before deciding on a field of study. She chose biology, inspired by two of the teachers whose classes she attended, Karl Heider and Max Hartmann. In 1920-21, she went to the University of Würzburg, then back to Berlin and to study chemistry, and then to the University of Freiburg for two years. In 1924, she returned to Berlin and passed the exams for secondary-school science teachers with distinction. She taught at a private school in Heidelberg for about six months, and also was briefly employed at the Schiller-Schule in Frankfurt, from which she was dismissed, apparently because she was Jewish. In 1928, she started postgraduate research in Developmental Physiology under Otto Mangold at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Biologie at Berlin-Dahlem. However, she was unhappy at the Institute and abandoned this work, spending the next few years teaching biology in several girls’ secondary schools in Berlin. In 1933, the rise of the Nazi regime put an end to her teaching career and she decided to leave Germany. With the help of friends in London, she was able to join the University of Edinburgh, where she spent the rest of her life. At Edinburgh, she earned a Ph.D. and went to work for Prof. F.A.E. Crew, head of the Institute of Animal Genetics, carrying out a number of research projects. The results were published in a series of papers bylined by Auerbach and Crew. In 1939, she was naturalized as a British citizen, thus avoiding internment as an enemy alien when World War II began. Auerbach became well known after 1942 when she discovered with A. J. Clark and J. M. Robson that mustard gas could cause mutations in fruit flies. She wrote more than 90 scientific papers, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London. In 1977, she was awarded the Royal Society's Darwin Medal. After receiving her D.Sc. degree in 1947, she was appointed Lecturer (later Reader) in the Institute of Animal Genetics, and was a popular teacher. From 1959 to 1969, she served as Honorary Director of the Unit of Mutagenesis Research which the Medical Research Council had established at Edinburgh University. After her retirement in 1969, she was made a Professor Emerita.
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