Phyllis R. Brown, Pioneering Chromatographer, Dies at 91

July 10, 2015

World-renowned chromatographer Phyllis R. Brown died on July 8 in Providence, Rhode Island, at the age of 91. Analytical scientists around the world knew her as the “mother of high performance liquid chromatography” or the “mother of analytical chemistry.”

Brown was a pioneer in the applications of HPLC and capillary electrophoresis (CE) to biochemistry and medical research. In the infancy of HPLC in the early 1970s and CE in the early 1980s, she saw the tremendous potential of these techniques for biotechnology and had the foresight to predict that they would open up new horizons in medical research.

Specifically, Brown made significant contributions to separation science in three main areas. One was the development and optimization of HPLC and CE for biotechnology, biochemistry, and pharmaceutical research and for use in clinical chemistry and medicine. The second was the use of these assays for nucleic acid constituents in pharmacology and in investigations of disease processes. The third was in studies of the mechanisms of reversed-phase LC retention of purines, pyrimidines, and their nucleotides.

Brown received her BS in chemistry from George Washington University. She then went back to school when she had four children, ages 9–14, to do her PhD in chemistry at Brown University She did postdoctoral work in the Section of Pharmacology at Brown, and in 1973 joined the faculty of the University of Rhode Island where she was promoted to full professor in 1980, and then professor emerita. During her tenure at Brown and Rhode Island, she fostered 71 graduate and undergraduate research students. In her educational development, Brown was a Phi Beta Kappa, a member of Sigma Xi, and a Fulbright Scholar.

She is the author of more than 200 articles and has written or edited five books on HPLC and CE. From 1976–2001, she was a co-editor, along with Cal Giddings and Eli Grushka, of the popular Advances in Chromatography series.

Brown was on the editorial advisory boards of Analytical Chemistry, Journal of Liquid Chromatography, Journal of Chromatographic Science, LCGC, Analytical Biochemistry, Journal of High Resolution Chromatography &Chromatography Communications, and the Journal of Chromatography, Biomedical Applications.

In 1984, Brown was chosen as “Woman of the Year” by the Business and Professional Women of South County, Rhode Island, and in 1985 was awarded the Scholarly Achievement Award for Excellence in Research at the University of Rhode Island. She received fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, Union Carbide and Brown University. She received the Tswett Medal in Chromatography, the Dal Nogare Award in Chromatography (Chromatography Forum of the Delaware Valley), an NSF Travel Award to work at the University of Tasmania, a Lady David Fellowship for a Visiting Scholar Award in the United Kingdom, and the Governor’s Medal for Contributions to Science and Technology in the State of Rhode Island. In addition, she received a citation from Brown University for outstanding research in the field of chemistry. Her most recent award was the Connecticut Separation Society Council’s Csaba Horvath Medal in 2004.

Brown was a strong promoter of the role of women in chromatography and science and encouraged young women to seek careers in science. She was an active member of American Women in Science.

Brown was the wife and partner of Bert for 65 years, mother of four, grandmother of nine, and great grandmother of 10.

An interview with Brown appeared in LCGC in November 2012. In a podcast interview, she talked about her experiences as a woman in chromatography and offered advice for young scientists.