Mark Robbins grew up near Boston and received his BA and MA degrees from Harvard University. He spent a year as a Churchill Fellow at Cambridge University and received his PhD from University of California, Berkeley, in 1983. Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Exxon's Corporate Research Science Laboratory in New Jersey, he joined the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins in 1986. He was promoted to associate professor in 1988 and to professor in 1992.
Robbins received a Presidential Young Investigator Award in 1986, a Sloan Foundation Fellowship in 1987 and a Simons Fellowship in Physics in 2012. He became a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in 2000 and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2018. He served as chair of the APS Group on Statistical and Nonlinear Physics and of the advisory board of the Kavli Institute of Theoretical Physics (KITP) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and is on the advisory board of the Boulder School for Condensed Matter and Materials Physics. He has organized symposia and workshops for the Materials Research Society, the Aspen Center for Theoretical Physics, and KITP, most recently “From the Atomic to the Tectonic: Friction Fracture and Earthquake Physics in 2005 and “Physical Principles of Multiscale Modeling, Analysis and Simulation in Soft Condensed Matter” in 2012. He chaired the 2010 Gordon Research Conference on Tribology.