Notable Scots: Innovation & Discovery
Alexander Crum Brown (1838-1922):
"Brown was a charming man and a very bad teacher. . . We all loved him."
~ John Flett, former student of Crum Brown 1
Alexander Crum Brown served as the Chair of the Chemistry Department at the University of Edinburgh from 1869 until his retirement in 1908. As a chemist, he gained prominence by developing a system of representing chemical compounds in diagrammatical form. This discovery was perhaps foreshadowed by his childhood tinkerings: before going to school, he had made a practical machine for weaving cloth, perhaps indicating what would become a life-long interest in complex knitting systems. Crum Brown also discovered the carbon dioxide bond in ethylene, which was to have important implications for the modern plastics industry.
Crum Brown's young students were quickly attracted to his kindly demeanor and affectionately nicknamed him "Crummie". He was, however, perhaps too brilliant to lecture to a crowd of young boys, and his classes were frequently interrupted by rowdy behavior from the back rows. At these moments, "Crummie" would retreat from the classroom, leaving his students to implore, "Will ye no' come back again"? Former student Francis Bell later recalled, "I think he really enjoyed our bizarre show of affection and teasing." 2