Louis Harold Gray: A Founding Father of Radiobiology

Springer Biographies 2017, hardcover $89.99, ISBN 978-3-319-43396-7, e-book $69.99, ISBN 978-3-319-43397-4.

The author of the following review, Leonard Solon, died recently. He was a long-time contributor to these book review pages. He was 92.

By Sinclair Wynchank

This is an interesting and comprehensive biography of the pioneer radiobiologist Louis Harold Gray (1905-1965). Gray’s name is incorporated in a fundamental dosimetry unit (i.e. one gray equals one joule of absorbed dose of ionizing radiation in a material). Gray’s early studies were done at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he received a scholarship at the age of 18. He was at the top of his class and subsequently admitted to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, one of the most important scientific institutions in the world. Its associates included Ernest Rutherford (1871-1935), whose experiments led to the understanding of the existence of the atomic nucleus; Joseph Thompson (1856-1940), discoverer of the electron; and James Chadwick (1891-1974), discoverer of the neutron and also Gray’s PhD mentor. An important outcome of Gray’s research at Cambridge was the Bragg-Gray Cavity Theory discovered independently by Gray and was one of the elements in the Nobel Prize awarded to William Henry Bragg (1862 - 1942) relating the absorbed dose in a material to the wall surrounding the cavity.

Gray’s later work in hospitals, which was of greater personal interest to him, involved the application of radiation therapy in treating cancer patients. Gray’s fundamental work in this area led to the conjecture that he might have achieved the Nobel Prize himself had he not died at a comparatively young age.

Wynchank informs us he spent several decades on Gray’s biography, and worked exhaustively not only to address Gray’s numerous scientific achievements but also to take us on a fascinating journey, joined by his colleagues and teachers of Gray’s early life, in early 20th century England.

The book is an expansive view of Gray’s personal character, his social contacts, his marriage, and his handling of scientific setbacks and controversies. Wynchank has great warmth and affection for his subject as manifested by his interviews with Gray’s friends and family, and by the author’s personal observations of face-to-face interviews and anecdotes. The biography depicts Gray as a dedicated man of science.

The biographer writes in a fashion that will be helpful to readers not acquainted with radiobiology and its ancillary subjects. One drawback is its lack of an index, which this reviewer and readers would have found useful. There is an appended list of several sources for the reader.

Leonard R. Solon, PhD

These contributions have not been peer-refereed. They represent solely the view(s) of the author(s) and not necessarily the view of APS.