Ernest William Brown

Born: 29 Nov 1866 in Hull, Yorkshire, England
Died: 23 July 1938 in New Haven, Connecticut, USA

[Mathematiker Bild]

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Ernest Brown attended Hull and East Riding College in Hull. He showed great promise at this school and he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1884. Brown received his B.A. in 1887 and his M.A. in 1891. In that year he left England for the United States.

Brown was appointed as an instructor in mathematics at Harvard in 1891 then, in 1893, he was promoted to full professor. In 1907 he was appointed professor of mathematics at Yale University, a post he held until he retired in 1932. However his summers were almost all spent back in England at Cambridge.

While he had worked in Cambridge, before going to the United States, Brown had read Hill's Researches in the lunar theory (1878). Newcomb was constructing tables of the planetary motion when Brown arrived in the USA and Newcomb had persuaded Hill to work on the motion of Jupiter and Saturn. As Hill was no longer working on the motion of the Moon, Brown thought that the field was open and began work himself in that area.

He published An Introductory Treatise on the Lunar Theory in 1896, then embarked on a new theory of the orbit of the Moon based on Hill's ideas. His great work appeared in five parts in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society between 1897 and 1908.

After 30 years of work, Brown published his lunar tables Tables of the Motion of the Moon in 1919. However the Moon stubbornly refused to follow the path that mathematicians computed for it and, despite attempts to take all reasonable effects into account, there were still fluctuations in the motion not predicted by theory.

In 1926 Brown published a paper in which he ascribed these fluctuation to irregular changes in the Earth's period of rotation which has subsequently proved correct.

Brown also worked on planetary motion. His book on this topic, Planetary Theory written jointly with C A Shook, appeared in 1933.

Brown received many awards for his work. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society at the early age of 31. He received the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1907 and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1914. He received the Watson Medal of the National Academy of Sciences in 1937.

He was also an active member of the American Mathematical Society, serving as its president from 1914 to 1916.

His life style is described in [7] as follows:-

He was in the habit of going to bed early and as a consequence woke up between three and five o'clock in the morning. After having fortified himself with strong coffee from a thermos bottle he set to work without leaving his bed, smoking numerous cigarettes. His serious scientific work was thus done before he got up for breakfast at nine o'clock.
References (7 books/articles)

References elsewhere in this archive:

Tell me about Brown's part in the discovery of Pluto

Ernest W Brown was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1898. You can see a history of the Royal Society and a list of the members among the mathematicians in our archive.
He was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1914. You can see a history of the Royal Medal and a list of the winners in our archive.

E W Brown was the President of the American Mathematical Society in 1915 - 1916. You can see a history of the AMS and a list of AMS presidents.
He was the American Mathematical Society Colloquium Lecturer in 1901. You can see a history of the AMS Colloquium and a list of the lecturers.

There is a Crater Brown on the moon (possibly named after this mathematician). You can see a list of lunar features named after mathematicians.

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JOC/EFR January 1997