Obituary - Bruce Willard Brown (1927 – 2015)

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Bruce Willard Brown (1927 - 2015)

willard brown


Bruce W. Brown earned both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in chemistry at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. His 1949 undergraduate thesis was Tungsten and Molybdenum Bronzes, and his 1952 MS thesis was The Solid State Preparation, Absorption Spectra andConductivity of Sodium Tungsten Bronzes - NaxWO3. In 1950 he traveled west to the University of Washington in Seattle where he became one of Ed Lingafelter’s students when machine computations in crystallography were starting to develop.

His graduate studies were interrupted in 1952 as the New York draft board caught up with him. As a Physical Science Research Assistant, he worked to develop defenses against chemical agents and was an instructor in Chemical Weapons Identification at a junior college. He told the tale of ordering a Weissenberg camera for part of this effort and when the supply house called to find out why it was rejected, he discovered the base receiving officer was the one who returned the instrument and who offered Bruce the explanation “A camera was ordered and any fool could tell that was not a camera!” Bruce also related how he spent countless nights in the Army laboratory during the absence of others because the instruments were very sensitive to line-power fluctuations caused by building elevators, other experiments involving transients, etc.

Returning to Seattle, crystallographic computations were initially made on borrowed equipment (nightly) in the University business office by wiring boards and feeding IBM cards to obtain the required multiplications and sums. Then, the University installed its first computer, an IBM 650, placed conveniently on the fourth floor attic annex of Bagley Hall, the Chemistry building (a direct climb from the basement where our labs and offices were located). This was a card-input, card-output machine requiring an office machine printer to list input or results. Since grant money for Lingafelter’s students was very low, a key to the room was acquired and the nightly use continued, requiring a bit of janitorial work at the end of the shift to remove punched tabs, replenish card and paper bins, etc.

The computer itself had a magnetic drum as its memory, able to hold 2,000 10-digit numbers. An adjacent room was full of tubes as the drivers for each of these memory bits, but the computer console allowed one to conveniently know when a particular tube had “failed” because it was marginal electronically. Observation of an IBM technician swapping tubes led a few of us to do the same. Unfortunately during the summer of 1957 while one of the below mentioned authors was at Los Alamos, the problem became catastrophic and the entire room of tubes needed attention and replacing.

In 1956 the IBM 650 computer was just being programmed in machine language for high efficiency and speed Since we knew the time the memory drum took for one revolution as well as the time for loading a location, the time required for addition (or other simple arithmetic steps), and that of storing the result to a specific location, it became possible for repetitive functions, such as the trigonometric ones, to make the process efficient with very careful programming. Lyle Jensen, Jim Stewart, Bruce Brown and, Bruno Morosin (the latest addition to the group), were involved in this effort. (Jensen was Lingafelter's first graduate student. He had become a professor in anatomy at the medical school on the edge of the campus, and he had excellent diffraction equipment the group could use when it was free. More important, he was actively pursuing crystallographic problems.). Soon assembly languages, SAP and SOAP became available, followed by FORTRAN. Bruce continued his long involvement in crystallographic computer programming to various degrees even at Portland State. (These computer codes were eventually developed by Jim Stewart, then a chemistry professor at the University of Maryland, into a system of programs, XRAY63, that eventually evolved into the XTAL system.)

Bruce wrote his dissertation, The Crystal Structures of the Bis-Ethylenediamine Complexes of Nickel (II) Thiocyanate, and earned his PhD in May, 1961 at the University of Washington.

Bruce accepted a position in the Department of Chemistry at Portland State College (which eventually became known as Portland State University) and remained there until retirement in 1992. During this period, he taught general and analytical chemistry and x-ray crystallography and he developed a series of courses for non-majors in environmental chemistry and chemical safety. He also served a hitch as Department Chair, and then eventually became Assistant Dean of Sciences. He also served on the Chemical Safety Committee for some years.

Bruce was much loved by his students because of his efforts on their behalf while acting as their advisor. He was considered tough and demanding by his students but always fair because it was obvious to them that he had their best interests at heart.

Bruce will be particularly missed by his children, step- grandchildren and other relatives as well as by many who interacted with him over the years. They miss his jokes and photos which have been more recently sent by e-mail

- Bruno Morosin and David McClure