Dawson, George Duncan 1912 - 1983


(1912-1983), physiologist

George Duncan Dawson was born in Manchester in 1912. He gained his MSc for research on nerve action potentials in 1933, before qualifying in medicine at Manchester Medical School in 1936. Well known for his skills in electrical engineering, Dawson secured a research appointment at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1938 and helped to set up the electroencephalography (EEG, the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain) laboratory of neurologist Sir Geoffrey Jefferson (1886-1961).

During the Second World War, Dawson joined the Royal Air Force but was invalided out in 1941 after contracting tuberculosis. While recovering, he embarked upon a series of EEG field tests at the David Lewis Colony in Sandlebridge, Cheshire, studying the electrical brain activity of patients with epilepsy. Attending the early wartime meetings of the EEG Society (1942-1989), Dawson formed collaborative relationships with several prominent EEG enthusiasts, including neurophysiologist William Grey Walter (1910-1977) and psychiatrist Denis Hill (1913-1982).

In 1944, Dawson was invited to join the Medical Research Council unit at the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, Queen Square under neurologist E.A. Carmichael (1896-1978). There he developed techniques for identifying small electroencephalographic signals against background noise while studying patients with epilepsy. The technique has since been celebrated as the foundation of modern conduction velocity studies (the study of the speed of electrical impulses in the human nervous system).

In 1961, Dawson became head of the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology at the Institute of Psychiatry, London. In 1966, he was appointed Second Professor of Physiology at University College London, where he remained until his retirement. In retirement, he continued research into epilepsy, developing computer-based methods for assessing drug treatments at Lingfield Epileptic Colony.

Dawson was married to biochemist and electroencephalographer Mollie Heppenstall, with whom he had two sons. He died on 13 November 1983.