Muriel Robertson

Protozoologist and Bacteriologist


Elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, two years after the first women were admitted, and she was also a fellow of the Institute of Biology, the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and a member of the Pathological Society, the Society for Experimental Biology and the Medical Research Club. She was a founding member of the Society of General Microbiology

  • BORN 1883 Glasgow, Scotland, UK
  • DIED 1973 Londonderry, Northern Ireland, UK
  • RESIDENCE Glasgow, UK  London, UK, Sri Lanka


She was privately educated and then obtained a Master of Arts and Doctor of Science from the University of Glasgow

Scientific Achievement

Muriel worked with Trypanosoma gambiense; the parasite that cause sleeping sickness. She was the first to discover that creating a vaccine would be exceptionally difficult due to the parasite’s ability to change its’ protein ‘coat’. She also worked with the bacterium Clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene.


Protozoologist, who specialised in the study of single-celled organisms including trypanosomes, of which there are a large number of species. Trypanosomes are parasites, and different species affect different hosts.

Quirky Fact

Muriel Robertson did not like people who behaved pretentiously. This included arrogant car-drivers. She kept a Mills bomb – a type of hand grenade – on her desk, and claimed she would throw it at any car which would not give way when she was crossing the road!


Slumber Song
Written in: 1925   Performed by: Frances M Lynch
Muriel Robertson is known for her work on the tsetse fly and the parasite it carries, Trypanosoma gambiense, which causes sleeping sickness. This rich harmonic lullaby written for a choir of women’s voices represents the sleep that would elude victims of this deadly disease at night and afflict them by day. Both scientist and composer traveled the world in pursuit of their careers, but Hopekirk did not return to Scotland.

Muriel’s Eye (M wana wa nnyabo )
Written in: 2017   Performed by: Frances M Lynch
Women in all cultures have been creating and singing lullabies since time began. The piece uses a Ugandan lullaby M wana wa nnyabo collected by Robinah Nazziwa a local music teacher which is in Lugandan – the language Muriel learnt from her assistants. It seems likely she may have heard this very popular one – and of course she was working on sleeping sickness there. The African material contrasts with the story of her life and work, sung in the style of a traditional Scottish Song. It was written for the show “Scottish Superwomen of Science” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – August 5th – 27th 2017