March 16, 2017

Cornell veterinary scientist Alan Dobson dies at 88

Alan Dobson

Alan Dobson, professor emeritus of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, died Feb. 21 in Ithaca. He was 88.

Dobson joined the Cornell faculty in 1964 as an associate professor in the veterinary college, where he studied ruminant physiology, focused on how sheep and cows absorb nutrients and the effects of anesthesia on horse pulmonary circulation. Trained as a gastrointestinal physiologist, Dobson made substantial contributions to the understanding of the comparative biology of gastrointestinal function in mammals, and he became a leader in the use of computers for acquiring biological data and performing analysis. He retired from Cornell in 1995, though he continued to work and he published many papers as an emeritus professor.

“In the university, Alan valued logic and open mindedness above all else,” said Robin Gleed, professor of anesthesiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “As a teacher and mentor, Alan was endlessly patient, kind and enthusiastic; he was a great role model for any aspiring scholar.”

Dobson helped invent an ultrasonic blood flow meter that led to the creation of the Ithaca company Transonic Systems in 1984, where he was a founding director, and a board member until just a few years before his death.

Among his many interests, Dobson was a musician who made antique wind and string instruments, which he played with an ensemble.

Born in 1928 in London, Dobson served in the Royal Air Force from 1947 to 1949 before studying natural sciences at Cambridge University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 1952. He completed his doctorate in biochemistry at Aberdeen University in Scotland in 1956.

From 1952 to 1964, Dobson worked at the Rowett Research Institute for Nutrition and Health in Aberdeen, where he specialized in ruminant nutrition. He spent a year, in 1961-62, as a visiting professor at Cornell’s veterinary college, before being permanently hired two years later.

In 1982, Dobson was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree by Cambridge University for his life’s contribution to biological science. He spent sabbatical years in 1970 and 1977 at Cambridge, and he was also made a Quartercentenary Research Fellow at Cambridge’s Emmanuel College in 1990.

Dobson was predeceased by his wife of 59 years, Marjorie, who died in 2014. He is survived by four children and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service has yet to be determined. Donations can be made to Hospicare, 172 East King Road, Ithaca, NY 14850.