Harrison Brown

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For other people named Harrison Brown, see Harrison Brown (disambiguation).
Harrison Scott Brown
Born (1917-09-26)September 26, 1917
Sheridan, Wyoming
Died December 8, 1986(1986-12-08) (aged 69)
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Nationality American
Fields Nuclear physics
Doctoral students Clair Cameron Patterson[1]
Other notable students George Tilton
Notable awards Newcomb Cleveland Prize (1947)
Spouse Adele Scrimger (divorced)
Rudd Owen (divorced)
Theresa Tellez

Harrison Brown (September 26, 1917 – December 8, 1986) was an American physicist and geochemist. In 1941 he received a doctorate in nuclear chemistry from the Johns Hopkins University.[2][3]

In 1942 Glenn T. Seaborg invited Brown to work with him at the University of Chicago in the Metallurgical Laboratories, working on ways to separate plutonium from uranium. With Orville Hill, Brown devised a successful method of achieving this by using the gaseous evaporation of fluorides. He moved with some of his colleagues to the Oak Ridge, Tennessee to work with the X-10 Graphite Reactor at Clinton Engineer Works.[2] Brown joined the Manhattan Project as a team supervisor and went on to become the first to successfully isolate gram quantities of plutonium.[3] The techniques discovered by the team proved to be the groundwork for those used at the Hanford Site which provided the plutonium for the bomb dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.[2][4] Just four months later he completed Must Destruction Be Our Destiny?, a book detailing the dangers of nuclear weapons.[2]

Brown returned to the University of Chicago to work as an assistant professor of Chemistry in the Institute for Nuclear Studies in 1946. He was joined by some of his former colleagues from the Manhattan Project and together they became the first team to study nuclear geochemistry. Brown went on to study meteorites and planetary structures along with ways to date the Earth, encouraging Clair Cameron Patterson to investigate the isotopic composition of an iron meteorite. Patterson's studies eventually led to the first close approximation of the age of the Earth and the solar system.[2] In 1948 Brown was awarded the American Association for the Advancement of Science prize for his work on meteorites.[3]

Between 1951 and 1977 he was professor of geochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).[2][3] While there he attracted several former colleagues and highly regarded scientists to the team. Together they made advancements in telescopic instrumentation, jet propulsion (contributing to NASA's early planetary exploration missions), and infrared astronomy.[2]

Brown joined the National Academy of Sciences in 1955 and was appointed as their foreign secretary in January 1962, a role that he would hold until 1974.[2] He demonstrated an interest in the scientific interactions between the United States and Eastern Europe.[5]

In 1983 Brown retired and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico with his third wife, Theresa Tellez. Brown was battling lung cancer, the treatment for which had resulted in progressive paralysis through the irradiation of his spine.[2] He died in the University of New Mexico Hospital on December 8, 1986.[3]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Must Destruction Be Our Destiny? (1946)
  • The Challenge of Man's Future (1954)
  • The Next Hundred Years (1957)
  • The Cassiopeia Affair with Chloe Zerwick (1968)
  • The Human Future Revisited (1978)


  1. ^ "Clair C. Patterson (1922-1995)". California Institute of Technology. 1997. p. 20. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Revelle, Roger (1994). "Harrison Brown 1917—1986 A Biographical Memoir". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Heise, Kenan (December 9, 1986). "Harrison Brown, 69". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Harrison Scott Brown, US geochemist". Science Photo Library. Retrieved August 26, 2012. 
  5. ^ Cochrane, Rexmond Canning (April 21, 2012). The National Academy of Sciences: the first hundred years, 1863-1963. Nabu Press. pp. 580–581. ISBN 978-1286264676. 

External links[edit]