Personal Life and Education
The German geneticist Charlotte Auerbach is credited as the founder of the science of chemical mutagenics. She was born in Krefeld in Germany on 14 May 1899 to Friedrich and Selma Auerbach. Like many researchers of note, Auerbach had an early interest in science that was fostered by a highly cultured, intellectual family background. Her father was a chemist and her grandfather, Leopold Auerbach, the discoverer of Auerbach's Plexus in the human intestine.
She studied biology, chemistry, physics and philosophy at the universities in Wurzburg, Freiburg and Berlin, receiving her Staatsexamen in 1924. For a period, unsure of her ability to work as a scientist and being fond of children, she worked as a secondary school science teacher in Heidelberg and Frankfurt. The experience was not particularly promising, given her inability to maintain class discipline and the anti-semitism that was already brewing in Germany.
In 1925 she joined the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology in Berlin-Dahlem to work on her Ph.D. Working under Otto Mangold, she found him too dictatorial for her liking and furthermore saw little opportunity for having a successful university career. So, once more, she retreated to teaching secondary school, this time in Berlin. It was as dismal an experience as her previous teaching stint and then, on 1 April 1933, the newly-formed Nazi government relieved her and other Jewish teachers of their posts.
Auerbach, on her mother's advice, moved base to Edinburgh and resumed her Ph.D. studies at the Institute of Animal Genetics at Edinburgh University. Completing a thesis on Drosophila leg development, she received her Ph.D. degree in 1933 and then began working as a research assistant to Professor Crew in his work on mouse mutagenesis. In this capacity, she met or attended the lectures of many distinguished scientists of the period. The one that most influenced her was Herman Joseph Mueller, who came to Edinburgh University in 1938. At this point, he had already demonstrated that X-rays caused mutations in Drosophila and he encouraged Auerbach to study chemically-induced mutations.