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  Latest News  
  Posted: December 21,  2004
Updated: December 23, 2004



  Herbert C. Brown Dead At Age 92
Nobel Laureate will be remembered for pioneering work in boron chemistry


Herbert C. Brown, the R. B. Wetherill Research Professor Emeritus of chemistry at Purdue University, died on Dec. 19 at the age of 92. Brown will long be remembered for his pioneering work in boron chemistry and for the 1979 Nobel Prize in Chemistry that honored the accomplishments of his lengthy research career.

Brown was born in London in 1912 and moved to the U.S. when he was two years old. He began high school at age 12 but dropped out two years later to run the family’s hardware store when his father died, according to an interview in “Candid Science” by István Hargittai (World Scientific Publishing Co., 2000).

“I’m afraid I neglected the business and spent a lot of time reading books,” Brown recalled for Hargittai. “I enjoyed studying.” So Brown’s mother arranged for the teenager to return to school and work in the store in the afternoons.

Later, he studied chemistry at the University of Chicago and completed a Ph.D. degree there in 1938. From 1943 to 1947, Brown held faculty positions at Wayne State University, Detroit, and then moved to Purdue, where he was appointed professor of chemistry.

While at the University of Chicago, Brown devised a method for preparing sodium borohydride, NaBH4. This compound was used to generate hydrogen gas for weather balloons during World War II and is used nowadays in some fuel-cell applications. Later, Brown discovered that unsaturated organic molecules can be converted readily to organoboranes through hydroboration reactions. He also investigated chemical effects of steric strain and developed methods to measure the strain quantitatively.

Brown is survived by his wife, Sarah Baylen, whom he credits with drawing his attention to boron chemistry. As Brown related in his Nobel Prize lecture, when he completed his bachelor’s degree in 1936, his soon-to-be wife presented him with a book on the hydrides of boron and silicon as a graduation gift. Brown is also survived by his son, Charles A.

  Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2004

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