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HARRISON BROWN: NUCLEAR CHEMIST, GEOCHEMIST AND ALSO A POLITICAL ACTIVIST

All of us are very much familiar about nuclear weapons. They are explosive devices that derive their destructive forces from nuclear reactions, either fission reaction or fusion reaction. These weapons were first used by United States of America over Japan. In the year 1945, during the final stage of World War II the United States of America dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many scientists and engineers were involved in the built up of these atomic bombs. Harrison Brown was one of them. The techniques developed by him were used to produce the plutonium used in the Fat man bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki.

Harrison Scott Brown was born on September 26th 1917 in Sheridan, Wyoming. He was the son of Harrison H. Brown and Agnes Scott Brown. His father was a rancher and cattle broker while his mother was a piano teacher and a professional organist. His father passed away when he was ten years old and later he moved with his mother to San Francisco. Mrs. Brown earned the income by serving as a dental assistant, teaching music and playing piano for silent movies. Young Harrison grew up to be a successful pianist, who organized his own jazz orchestra. His mother never taught him to read music. He learnt music by listening to what his mother played.

After he graduated from Galileo High School in San Francisco, he went to University of California at Berkeley and received a B.S in chemistry in the year 1988. Harrison was influenced by the work of the chemist, G.E.Gibson (a faculty member at Berkeley) who did research on stable isotopes and their separation by mass spectrometry and thermal diffusion. Robert D. Fowler was another professor from Berkeley who influenced Harrison to develop interest in nuclear chemistry. Fowler moved to John Hopkins University and Harrison followed him as a graduate student.

Harrison developed mass spectrometric techniques for his doctoral degree. He received doctorate degree from John Hopkins University for the submission of his thesis in construction of mass spectrometer for isotope analysis and the thermal diffusion of argon.

During World War II, Harrison worked at Manhattan Project’s Metallurgical Laboratory and Clinton Engineer Works, where he worked on different ways to separate plutonium from uranium. After the war, he worked at the University of Chicago, where he developed interest in nuclear geochemistry. The study of meteorites by Brown and his students led to the first close rough estimation of earth’s age and solar system. He worked at California Institute of Technology between 1951 and 1977. During this period he contributed to advancements in telescopic instrumentation, jet propulsion and infrared astronomy.

Harrison was a political activist also; he gave lectures and wrote on the issues of world hunger, arms limitation and natural resources.

Harrison was married to Adele Scrimger and they had a son, Eric Scott Brown, who became a marine biologist. He retired in the year 1983 and moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico with his third wife. He served as columnist and editor and chief of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In his last years Brown suffered from lung cancer and he died on December 8th, 1986 in the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

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