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Condolences for Professor Jim Brown

Professor Jim Brown, Emeritus Professor of Experimental Physics, died in April 2018.

Professor Brown was appointed to the Readership in Experimental Physics from 1 September 1965 and appointed Professor of Experimental Physics from 1 April 1971. He was appointed Director of the Physics Laboratory in 1976 and he remained Director until 1982. He was appointed Emeritus Professor in 1985 following his retirement. After 1985, he continued to be closely associated with the University, acting as internal examiner in 1991, and still teaching for many years.

These are brief notes, for a life rich in a warm humanity which touched, supported and helped so many of those who came in contact with him.

As he often reminded students in his lectures on magnetism, during World War II Professor Brown worked with the Royal Canadian Navy on degaussing ships and on underwater sound, including the trials of the new hydrophone array on the captured U885.

He was demobilized in Scotland as Electrical Lieutenant RCNVR in October, 1945 just in time to begin his doctorate in Low Temperature Physics at the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford. Then, wanting adventure and to explore, he went to Lingnan University in Canton, China. Work on a new type of expansion liquefier to produce the first liquid helium in Asia was interrupted by the arrival at his University of the advancing victorious Red Army during the establishment of the Communist Government. This was followed the next year by the expulsion of Westerners including Professor Brown. He used to happily regale colleagues with stories of his time in China, of which he clearly had many fond memories. As with all his stories, there was often a deep respect for others.

He then spent two years on liquid helium research at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. During the Korean war, he heard from former students on both sides of the conflict. From Ontario he returned to British Columbia, publishing work on liquid helium and superconducting thin films. He was proud of this time in British Columbia, and enjoyed receiving updates from there.

Arriving in Kent with the first undergraduates in 1965, he established the Low Temperature Laboratory here. With colleagues, the first application of the quartz microbalance to measure thickness of the helium film was effected and measurement made of the Bernoulli effect in the flowing electronic fluid of a superconductor, as well as other work to elucidate the contact potential of metals under stress. An NERC investigation of acoustic imaging to explore its feasibility for use in coal mines was carried out on large scale in the air. More recently, Professor Brown has been a member of the Applied Optics Group and still attended meetings on campus in his 90s.

Professor Brown used to visit the campus regularly until earlier this year. He was popular with students, with some of the “First 500” holding him in high regard and still in touch with him all these years later. Staff found his warm, gentle approach to life of comfort, reminding us of the good things in life.

Professor Mark Burchell,
Dean of Sciences