Alexander Crum Brown, (1838?1922), chemist, was born in Edinburgh on 26 March 1838, the only son of a United Presbyterian minister, John Brown (1784?1858), and his second wife, Margaret Fisher Crum (d. 1841), sister of the chemist Walter Crum FRS (1796?1867) and a descendant of Ebenezer Erskine. His half-brother, John Brown MD (1810?1882), was famed as an author; their grandfather was John Brown of Whitburn (1754?1832), and their great-grandfather was John Brown of Haddington. Crum Brown, as he was generally known, spent five years at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, then went to Mill Hill School, Middlesex. He entered the University of Edinburgh in 1854 to study arts, but changed to medicine, and was a gold medallist in chemistry and natural philosophy. He graduated MA in 1858 and MD in 1861. He simultaneously studied science at London University where he gained his DSc in 1862. In the following year he went to Germany to study chemistry, under Bunsen at Heidelberg and Kolbe at Marburg. He returned to Edinburgh to teach medical students, as extramural lecturer in chemistry in 1863 and professor from 1869 to his retirement in 1908. He obtained his FRCP (Edinburgh) in 1865. In 1866 he married Jane Bailie (d. 1910), daughter of the Revd James Porter of Drumlee, co. Down. There were no children.
In keeping with his medico-chemical interests, Crum Brown''s Edinburgh MD thesis, ?On the theory of chemical combination? (1861), proposed a new way to represent chemical constitution: each atom was to be indicated by the chemical symbol for the element concerned, bonds between atoms being symbolized by lines. Essentially this was the system of notation later employed universally. For clarifying atomic relationships within a molecule, according to the new valency theories of Edward Frankland and Kekul?, this simple device was of untold value and greatly facilitated the emergence of the theory of structure upon which later chemistry was predicated. It transformed the teaching of organic chemistry, particularly in the hands of Frankland, becoming known, somewhat unfairly, as ?Frankland''s notation?. The system was introduced to a wider audience at a lecture on chemical constitution and its relation to physiological action, reported in Chemical News complete with the new ?graphic formulae?. His name is remembered now chiefly for the Crum Brown?Gibson rule, enunciated with his assistant J. Gibson (1855?1914) in 1892, concerning substitution in a benzene molecule.
Though his most enduring concern was the establishment of a truly mathematical theory of chemistry (in which he was unsuccessful) Crum Brown also worked on optical activity, organo-sulphur compounds, and electrolytic synthesis of half-esters. He wrote on the physiology of the inner ear, where he correctly related vertigo to the motion of fluid in channels of the inner ear. He was proficient in Japanese, and an expert in systems of knitting. His other interests included the university senate, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the synod of his church. He was the first holder of a London DSc (1862), received honorary degrees from all four Scottish universities, and became FRSE in 1863 and FRS in 1879. He was president of the Chemical Society from 1891 to 1893. Crum Brown died on 28 October 1922 at his home, 8 Belgrave Crescent, Edinburgh.
- Oil on Canvas
- Width (cm):
- 49.00 x 37.00 (cm) 19.29 x 14.57 (ins)