Robert Brown (botanist)

Robert Brown (botanist)

Robert Brown FRS (21 December, 1773 – 10 June, 1858) was a Scottish scientist who is acknowledged as the leading botanist to collect in Australia during the first half of the 19th century. He also is credited with the first observation of Brownian motion.

Life and work

Brown was born in Montrose, Scotland on 21 December 1773. He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he was a classmate of Thomas Dick. He joined the Fencibles regiment of the army as a surgeon in 1795. In December 1800 he accepted an offer of the position of naturalist on board the "The Investigator" under Matthew Flinders, which was about to depart on its historic voyage to chart the coast of Australia. The "Investigator" arrived in King George Sound in what is now Western Australia in December 1801. For three and a half years Brown did intensive botanic research in Australia, collecting about 3400 species, of which about 2000 were previously unknown. A large part of this collection was lost, however, when the "Porpoise" was wrecked "en route" to England.

Brown remained in Australia until May 1805. He then returned to England where he spent the next five years working on the material he had gathered. He published numerous species descriptions; in Western Australia alone he is the author of nearly 1200 species. In 1810, he published the results of his collecting in his famous "Prodromus Florae Novae Hollandiae et Insulae Van Diemen", the first systematic account of the Australian flora. That year, he succeeded Jonas C. Dryander as Sir Joseph Banks' librarian, and on Banks' death in 1820 Brown inherited his library and herbarium. This was transferred to the British Museum in 1827, and Brown was appointed Keeper of the Banksian Botanical Collection.

In a paper read to the Linnean society in 1831 and published in 1833, Brown named the cell nucleus. The nucleus had been observed before, perhaps as early as 1682 by the Dutch microscopist Leeuwenhoek, and Franz Bauer had noted and drawn it as a regular feature of plant cells in 1802, but it was Brown who gave it the name it bears to this day (while giving credit to Bauer's drawings). Neither Bauer nor Brown thought the nucleus to be universal, and Brown thought it to be primarily confined to Monocotyledons. [cite book | author = Harris, Henry | title = The Birth of the Cell | year = 1999 | publisher = Yale University Press | pages = 76 – 81 ]

After the division of the Natural History Department of the British Museum into three sections in 1837, Robert Brown became the first Keeper of the Botanical Department, remaining so until his death at Soho Square in London on June 10 1858. He was succeeded by John Joseph Bennett.

Brown is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.

Brown's name is commemorated in the Australia herb genus "Brunonia" as well as numerous Australian species such as "Eucalyptus brownii", and the moss Brown's Tetrodontium Moss ("Tetrodontium brownianum"), a species which he discovered growing at Roslin near Edinburgh whilst still a student. The plant can still be found at the site of its discovery. [ "Bryology (mosses, liverworts and hornworts)"] Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Retrieved 15 May 2008.] Passing through the suburb of Kingston, south of Hobart, Tasmania, formerly Van Diemen`s Land, is Brown`s River, named in his honor, upon the banks of which, he collected botanical samples.

Brownian motion

In 1827, while examining pollen grains and the spores of mosses and "Equisetum" suspended in water under a microscope, Brown observed minute particles within vacuoles in the pollen grains executing a continuous jittery motion. He then observed the same motion in particles of dust, enabling him to rule out the hypothesis that the motion was due to pollen being alive. Although he himself did not provide a theory to explain the motion and Jan Ingenhousz had described it using charcoal particles in German and French publications of 1784 and 1785 [cite journal | author = van der Pas, Peter W. | title = The Discovery of Brownian motion | journal = Scientiarum Historia | year = 1971 | volume = 13 | pages = 17 | url = ] , the phenomenon is now known as Brownian motion in his honour.

In recent years it was generally held that Brown's microscopes were insufficient to reveal phenomena of this order. Brown's re-discoveries were denied in a brief paper in 1991. [cite journal | author = Deutsch, D. H. | title = Did Robert Brown Observe Brownian Motion: Probably Not | journal = Scientific American | year = 1991 | volume = 265 | pages = 20- See also Bulletin of the American Physical Society, 36 (4): 1374, April 1991.] Shortly thereafter, in a hastily-compiled illustrated presentation, British microscopist Brian J. Ford presented to Inter Micro 1991 in Chicago a reprise of the demonstration. His video sequences substantiated Brown's observations. [cite journal | author = Ford, Brian J. | title = Robert Brown, Brownian Movement, and Teethmarks on the Hatbrim | journal = The Microscope | year = 1991 | volume = 39 | pages = 161 – 171 - See also [ this site] .]

See also

* List of Australian plant species authored by Robert Brown
* Brown's taxonomic arrangement of "Banksia"


External links

* [ "Robert Brown’s Australian Botanical Specimens, 1801–1805 at the British Museum (BM)"] A comprehensive database.
* [ Robert Brown] Robert Brown's work on orchids.
* [ "Classic papers by Robert Brown"] PDFs of several original papers by Robert Brown are available from this webpage.
* [ – Robert Brown]
*Dictionary of Australian Biography|First=Robert|Last=Brown|Link=

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