Alexander Crum Brown
Born in Edinburgh, the son of Rev Dr John Brown (1784-1858), minister of Broughton Place Church in the east end of Edinburgh's New Town, and Margaret Fisher Crum (d.1841) and half brother of the physician and essayist John Brown, he studied for five years at the Royal High School, succeeded by one year at Mill Hill School in London. In 1854 he entered the universities of University of Edinburgh where he first studied Arts and then of Medicine. He was gold medallist in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy and graduated as M.A. in 1858. Continuing his medical studies, he received the degree of M.D. in 1861. During the same time he read for the science degree of University of London, and in 1862 became the first Doctor of Science at the University of London. After his graduation as Doctor of Medicine in Edinburgh he continued the study of chemistry in Germany, first under Robert Bunsen at University of Heidelberg, and then at University of Marburg under Adolph Wilhelm Hermann Kolbe.
In 1863 he returned to the University of Edinburgh to accept a position of an extra-academical lecturer in chemistry. In 1865 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and was appointed Professor of Chemistry at Edinburgh in 1869, holding the Chair until his retirement in 1908. In the application for this position he was supported by such famous chemists as Baeyer, Beilstein, Bunsen, Butlerov, Erlenmeyer, Hofmann, Kolbe, Volhard and Wöhler. The Chair of Chemistry at the university still bears his name.
Although physically not very robust, Crum Brown spent much of his holiday time in tramping in the highlands and on the continent, and was rarely ill. He married early in his professorial life, to Jane Bailie Porter (d.1910). He remained intellectually active until his death in Edinburgh in 1922.
He is buried on the obscured southern terrace of Dean Cemetery.
Crum Brown's pioneering work concerned the development of a system of representing chemical compounds in diagrammatic form. In 1864 he began to draw pictures of molecules, in which he enclosed the symbols for atoms in circles, and used dashed lines to connect the atomic symbols together in a way that satisfied each atom's valence. The results of his influential work were published in 1864 and reprinted in 1865.
Although Crum Brown apparently never contemplated the practice of medicine, his training as a medical student gave him an interest in physiology and pharmacology which led him to collaborate during 1867–8 with T. R. Fraser, a distinguished medical graduate a few years younger than himself, in a pioneering investigation of fundamental importance on the connection between chemical constitution and physiological action. Their method "consists in performing upon a substance a chemical operation which shall introduce a known change into its constitution, and then examining and comparing the physiological action of the substance before and after the change." The change considered was the addition of ethyl iodide to various alkaloids and comparison of the iodides (and the corresponding sulfates) thus obtained with the hydrochlorides of the original alkaloids. Striking regularities were observed, amongst others "that when a nitrile [tertiary] base possesses a strychnialike action, the salts of the corresponding ammonium [quaternary] bases have an action identical with curare [poison]."
He discovered the carbon double bond of ethylene, which was to have important implications for the modern plastics industry. He also made significant contributions to pharmacology, and worked with physiology, phonetics, mathematics and crystallography.
- Scotland's People http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/welcome.aspx Baptism 6 May 1838 BROWN ALEXANDER CRUM JOHN BROWN/MARGARET FISHER CRUM FR4534 (FR4534) M EDINBURGH EDINBURGH CITY CITY/MIDLOTHIAN 685/01 0610 0266
- M.D available at the Edinburgh Research Archive.
- Edgar F. Smith, W. R. Dunstan, B. A. Keen and Frank Wigglesworth Clarke (1923). "Obituary notices: Charles Baskerville, 1870–1922; Alexander Crum Brown, 1838–1922; Charles Mann Luxmoore, 1857–1922; Edward Williams Morley, 1838–1923; William Thomson, 1851–1923". J. Chem. Soc., Trans. 123: 3421–3441. doi:10.1039/CT9232303421.
- "Chairs and Professors of Universities in the United Kingdom". Who's Who Year-book for 1905. p. 132.
- A. Crum Brown (1864) "On the Theory of Isomeric Compounds," Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 23 : 707–719.
- A. Crum Brown (1865). "On the Theory of Isomeric Compounds". J. Chem. Soc. 18: 230–245. doi:10.1039/JS8651800230.
- Teh Fu Yen; Chilingar, George V. (1976). Oil Shale. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-444-41408-3. Retrieved 31 May 2009.
- Testimonials in favour of Alexander Crum Brown (Muir and Paterson, Edinburgh,1869).
- Brown, A.C., Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 23,707–720 (1864).
- Brown, A.C., ibid.,24, 331–9 (1867).
- Brown, A.C., Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 17, 181–5 (1891).
- Brown, A.C. and Walker, J., Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 36,211–224 (1892); ibid., 37, 361–379 (1895).
- Brown, A.C. and Gibson, J., Chemical Society Transactions, 61, 367–9 (1892).
- Horn, D.B., A Short History of the University of Edinburgh (University Press, Edinburgh, 1967), p. 194.
- National Library of Scotland MS 2636, f. 182.
- Rorie, D., University of Edinburgh Journal, 6,8–15 (1933–34).
- Flett, J.S., ibid., 15,160–182 (1949–1951 ).
- Bell, F.G., ibid., 20,215–230 (1961–1962).
- Edinburgh University Library MS Gen. 47D.
- Kendall, J., Journal of Chemical Education, 4,565–9 (1927).
- Report of the Royal Commissioners on the Universities of Scotland, vol. II (Evidence-Part I) (H.M.S.O., Edinburgh, 1878), pp. 184–5.
- Quasi Cursores (Constable, Edinburgh, 1884), pp. 229–232.
- Kendall, J., Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1,537–549 (1932–35):
- Edinburgh University Library MS Gen. 178/3,4.
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Alexander Crum Brown
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