Thomas Benjamin Brown

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Thomas Benjamin Brown

Legacy Faculty, 1918-57


After receiving his PhD from Cornell in 1916 at the age of 24, Prof. Brown devoted 39 years to our Department, from 1918 to 1957, and developed a successful teaching style which used working experimental apparatus to demonstrate physics principles, a blend of ideas with practice which became his hallmark. His students remember his inspiring lectures, ingenious demonstrations, personal attention, energy and skill helping them learn all aspects of physics.

During his long tenure as Executive Officer of the Department (1927-1957), he was instrumental in bringing George Gamow and Edward Teller to the Department in 1934. His warm friendship with Gamow and Teller lasted from then to the end of his life. Before the second world war, he wrote a standard text, "The Fundamentals of Modern Physics". During the War, he did magnetism research for the Navy. Through his skills in experimental physics, he built up the physics laboratories into modern facilities and then published a complete laboratory manual of the experimental exercises he designed, and was editor-in-chief of The Lloyd Williams Taylor Manual of Advanced Undergraduate Experiments in Physics. Much of his equipment and his lab exercises were used long after he retired in 1957. He received a special award from the National Association of Physics Teachers in 1961 in recognition of his contribution to education.

He was not idle in retirement. His colleague Joseph Beaven Platt and fellow physics alumnus from Cornell invited him to the newly formed Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. Dr. Platt holds the titles of Senior Professor of Physics Emeritus at Harvey Mudd College and President Emeritus of Claremont Graduate University. In February, 2000, he sent the following tribute:

"I remember Tom Brown with respect, gratitude, and affection. In the early years of Harvey Mudd College, I was eager to have some teachers of national standing on our faculty.

"I heard that Tom was retiring, and got in touch with him. He joined us, and did an excellent job of building our physics labs, as well as his full share of teaching. He could get an amazing amount of good physics demonstrated and tested with simple equipment; his experiment on the absolute determination of current is still a mainstay of our introductory lab. He set standards of performance for our students that they found challenging, and he helped them meet the challenge. He was a first-rate physicist, a great human being, and an indefatigable and wise teacher all his life."

The Physics Department of Harvey Mudd College continues to select the recipient of the Thomas Benjamin Brown Memorial Physics Research Award.

Prof. Brown was born in Bath, NY, in 1892, and died in California, June 21, 1962, leaving his wife Lea (Pomana, CA), a daughter Eleanor Warner (Arlington, VA), and three sons, Charles (Canoga Park, CA), Eric (Midland, MI), and Kingsley (Sayre, PA).

2000, W.C. Parke