John Brown grew up in Dumbarton where he became a stargazing addict at age 10 with the start of The Sky at Night, the launch of Sputnik, the opening of Jodrell Bank and viewing of Comet Arend-Roland. He started Dumbarton Academy Astronomy Club before entering Glasgow University (GU), with the support of a Student Grant plus a GU Bursary Exam award (12th place). Following his 1st Class BSc (1968) in Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, during which he did vacation research at ROE (1966) with Michael Smyth and Harvard (1967) with Gerald Hawkins (“Stonehenge Decoded”) he was appointed to a 3 year GU Astronomy Dept. Research Assistantship with teaching duties conducting doctoral research under the supervision of Regius Professor PA Sweet (of Sweet-Parker reconnection and Eddington-Sweet circulation fame).
Biography of John Brown, OBE
His post was converted to a Lectureship in 1970 and his PhD on the theory of solar flare hard X-ray emission and related plasma processes and diagnostics was completed in 1973, including bremsstrahlung theory work done during a DAAD 4 months U. Tuebingen (1971-2) under G. Elwert. This led directly to a year of ESRO (ESA)-funded research leave in the Space Research Lab of Utrecht University working on solar hard X-ray data from the ESR0 TD1a satellite and the planning of the first solar hard X-ray imager HXIS eventually launched on NASA’s Solar Maximum Mission in 1980. Subsequent related research leave visits included NCAR High Altitude Observatory 1977, NASA Goddard SFC 1980, and UC San Diego 1984 (on a one Year Nuffield Fellowship). Brown was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1978, to Reader in 1980 and (following Sweet’s retirement in 1980) competed successfully in 1984 for the new Chair of Astrophysics, with the remit of promoting greater integration of research and teaching between Astronomy and Natural Philosophy. (In the same year he was awarded the GU Kelvin Medal for DSc thesis). In 1986, following detailed negotiations (under the Headships of Archie Roy and Ian Hughes) the new Dept of Physics and Astronomy was formally opened by Professor Martin (now Lord) Rees. Re-accommodation in the early 1990s of the Astronomers from the Maths Building into the refurbished Nat Phil (now Kelvin) Building accelerated the full merger process.
The advent of Germanium detectors allowed application of Brown’s early work on hard X-ray spectral and imaging deconvolution to real data from NASA’s Ramaty High Energy Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI) (launched 2002 and still operational) on which Brown was UK Co-I.. RHESSI also allowed testing of his 1971 Thick Target beam-plasma model, these topics being central in the citation in his award of the 2012 RAS Gold Medal in Geophysics.
In parallel with his solar work, Brown became very active is science outreach and in other areas of astrophysical modeling, especially of stellar mass loss and polarization with collaborations including Wisconsin, Montreal Amsterdam, Potsdam. Most recently he was been working, with Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow support, on comet and asteroid impacts with the sun and other stars.
His research and outreach achievements led to his appointment in 1995 as 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland, a title created in 1834, and pre-1995 tied to the Edinburgh Chair and ROE Directorship (9th incumbent Malcolm Longair) and in 1996 to his translation from the GU Astrophysics Chair to the vacant Regius Chair. On the outreach front, Brown further expanded his activities and advisory roles with the public, societies, schools, planetaria, science centres, and extensively with rural communities, playwrights, musicians, poets, and magicians, being himself a semi-pro magician, using magic effects to illustrate exotic physics like quantum barrier penetration and space-time worm-holes. which won a UK Institute of Physics Outreach Prize. He himself has wide arts and crafts interests, his most recent foray being into trying to play alto sax. For “services to promotion of astronomy and science education” he was made OBS in the 2016 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
[For more details of John’s activities see www.johncbrown.org]