Ian Brown

By October 3rd, 2018

Early life

Ian was born in Adelaide on 28 May 1917 and attended the Peters College, Adelaide from 1926 to 1935. In his final year at school he won prizes in chemistry, physics and mathematics.

Tertiary education and early career

In 1936 he started a science course at the University of Adelaide, but had to discontinue his studies in that year because of injuries to leg and later his hands. He re-commenced in 1937 and was awarded a Second Class Honours Degree in Organic Chemistry in 1940.

In January 1941 he was employed as an assistant chemist in the Birkenhead laboratory of the Shell Company but resigned in July of that year to tale a similar position with Beckers Pty Ltd, where he helped with the design and development of the Caffeine plant.

He resigned from this company in March 1942, for personal reasons.¬†From documents accompanying his later application to the position of assistant research officer at CSIR, the personal reasons were connected with a perceived lack of safety precaution at the Beckers’ plant.

Time at CSIRO

Ian commenced at CSIR on 20 July 1942, assisting D. R. Zeidler on the furfural project in the chemical engineering section. In 1947, he commenced a project on ‘the distillation of organic liquids’ and it was in areas related to this that he worked for the rest of his career.

Ian’s high standards with regard to the measurement of the physical properties of very pure compounds was recognised worldwide. In 1963 he was invited to write a chapter on nonelectrolytes for the Annual Review of Physical Chemistry and this was published in 1965.

In 1965 he accepted an invitation to become a Titular Member (the highest grade) of the IUPAC Commission on Data and Standards and served on this Commission with distinction for the maximum allowable period of eight years.

In 1966 he was awarded a DSc by the University of Adelaide.

Ian’s work was characterised by an extraordinary patience and persistence. This was exemplified by his work on the design of the Division of Applied Organic Chemistry building at Clayton.

He was on one of the first people to try and calculate the flow of air required in a laboratory to ensure a safe environment. Over twenty years and several designs layer, the final building was completed. It is a pity that Ian did not live to see the finish of the project.

Honours and awards

1966 Doctor of Science (DSc) from the University of Adelaide


Adapted from a submission by Tom Spurling to CoResearch, CSIRO’s staff newsletter (no. 307 October 1987), p. 8.

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