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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Melba (Johnston) Robson was a biomedical technician at the Metallurgical Laboratory in Chicago during the Manhattan Project.

According to Their Day in the Sun: Women of the Manhattan Project, she conducted blood chemistry studies and taught techniques to laboratory technicians. Robson also performed the blood tests on the rats and rabbits exposed to Chicago Pile-1 (Howes and Herzenberg, p. 119).

Along with Evelyn O. Gaston and Edna K. Marks, Robson provided technical assistance to James Nickson, specifically in his studies of blood changes in humans following total-body irradiation. The results of the study were reported in Metallurgical Laboratory Report CH-3868 and later published publically (Howes and Herzenberg, p. 119).

In 1943, Robson transferred to Oak Ridge with a branch of the Met Lab’s Biology Division. At Oak Ridge, she performed blood tests and offered hospital support. She worked at Oak Ridge until late 1945 or early 1946 (Howes and Herzernberg, p. 124).

While at Oak Ridge, she met and married Arthur A. Robson, an engineer from Kodak Eastman. According to her son, Melba was aware of the work and tests at Los Alamos, and one of the concerns she had heard about was “the possibility that the Trinity Test would ignite a self-sustaining fusion reaction on Earth.”  (Howes and Herzernberg, p. 124).

After the World War II, she joined the faculty of the University of Illinois School of Allied Arts in the Medical Sciences.

For more information about women during the Manhattan Project, please see the following reference:

Melba (Johnston) Robson's Timeline
1943 Left the Met Lab for Oak Ridge.
19431946 Worked as a biomedical technician at Oak Ridge.

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