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Alan Brown

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Username: Stan

Post Number: 8
Registered: 05-2006

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Posted on Sunday, March 02, 2008 - 04:00 am:   

Alan Brown was a distinguished
Edinburgh neurophysiologist who will
be remembered for his originality,
enthusiasm and humanity. He died on
6 December 2006 at the age of 67. His
enduring interest was in the physiology
and anatomy of the mammalian central
nervous system, especially those
components concerned with
somaesthetic mechanisms in the spinal
cord. His 1982 book Organisation of
the spinal cord contains numerous
neuronal reconstructions reminiscent of
Cajalís illustrations, but accompanied
by precise information as to their
functional characteristics, the nature of
their afferent inputs and the potential
role of descending pathways from
higher centres in the dynamic
regulation of somaesthesia. He
contributed prominently to our
understanding of the diversity of
sensory mechanisms in the dorsal horn
and his unique contribution was the
correlation of these physiological
mechanisms with detailed morphology
and ultrastructure.
A native of Nottingham, Alan Brown
read Medicine at the University of
Edinburgh, qualifying with an honours
BSc in Physiology in 1961 and
MBChB in 1964. After graduation he
joined the newly formed Department of
Veterinary Physiology at the Royal
(Dick) Veterinary College, University
of Edinburgh. He received his PhD in
1968, progressed to a Readership in
1976 and to a full Professorship in
1984. He received some prestigious
research awards including a Beit
Memorial Research Fellowship and
MRC Research Fellowships during this
period. A member of The Physiological
Society since 1968, he was elected
Fellow of the Royal Society of
Edinburgh in 1984 and Fellow of the
Institute of Biology in 1988. He served
as a member of the MRC
Neurosciences Grants Committee and
held editorial positions on The Journal
of Physiology, the Quarterly Journal of
Experimental Physiology, the Journal
of Neurophysiology, Neuroscience and
Brain Research/Brain Research
Reviews. He was Head of Department
of Preclinical Veterinary Sciences for
much of the 1990s.
Alan mentored a number of
distinguished neuroscientists who
achieved high positions in their own
right in North America, Australia, UK
and elsewhere. They have written
uniformly of the warmth of the
welcome they received when they
visited his laboratory, and of their
happy memories of time spent in
Edinburgh and the high productivity at
that time in their careers. His
personality and character were those of
the true academic, with dedication and
commitment to his discipline, integrity
in the conduct and presentation of his
research, and a love of the broader
intellectual and cultural life that
enriches and enlivens the human spirit.
He approached life with a characteristic
meticulous and thoughtful approach,
lacking hubris and self-promotion, and
his enthusiasm for scientific debate in
the best tradition of The Physiological
Society will be remembered by many.
Other visitors to his laboratory felt they
learned through their visits that the
destructive behaviors that existed in
their home institutions were not
inevitable. Many have commented on
how they and their families were
welcomed into his home, in the best of
Edinburgh traditions, during their visits.
Other senior visitors during the period
of his headship have commented that
despite successive rounds of cuts, his
department was a settled one, due not
least to his own personal qualities and
support for his staff.
My own links with Alan and his family
date back to his undergraduate days in
Edinburgh and I fully concur the
feelings of his distinguished students
and colleagues from the 1980s and
1990s. I too enjoyed some time in his
laboratory, but my main contact was
with him and his family in our home
environments over a span of more than
40 years, when the he would often talk
about science, music, politics, art,
literature and education, not to mention
everyday matters of family and work,
and one of his favorite hobbies,
gardening. Our families visited each
other regularly, and our shared
enthusiasm for music originated from
participation in chamber music of
various genres. Alan was a skilled
violinist and in adulthood also learned
to play the cello; in recent years he was
an active member of the New
Edinburgh Orchestra.
Alan took enormous pride in his two
children, Jeremy and Jessica, who are
both in academia. He is survived also
by his mother, his first wife, Judith, and
his second wife, Patricia, whom he
married just weeks before his death,
and who looked after him lovingly
throughout his final illness.
John F B Morrison

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