Jan Brown, Paul Brown, Gordon B. Barlin and Wilfred L.F. Armarego

Desmond (Des) Joseph Brown: an eminent organic chemist

De Gruyter | Published online: July 23, 2014

Des was born on 16 December 1920 in Watersleigh in Sydney, Australia. He was the second of two children to his parents Leslie and Lily. He attended St Patrick’s College, Strathfield, and developed a life long devotion to the Catholic faith. He died on 1 July 2013, aged 92.

He was Dux and gold medallist at primary school; developed an early interest in chemistry and established his own laboratory at home. He also excelled in secondary school and was subsequently awarded a Public Exhibition to attend the University of Sydney.

During his undergraduate course (1938–1941) he was awarded a Liversidge Scholarship and a Cox-Findlayson Scholarship. He achieved a Bachelor of Science degree with first class honours in chemistry. In 1942 he was a Research Scholar at the University of Sydney and from 1943 to 1945 he was a Research Assistant to Professor J.C. Earl at the University and for a period at the Australian Field Experimental Station at Proserpine in Queensland. During the period 1945–1946 he was a member of Professor Adrien Albert’s Chemotherapy Group at the University of Sydney working on the synthesis and structure/activity studies of antibacterial benzoquinolines and benzacridines. The MSc degree was conferred on him in 1946. In that year he was awarded a James King of Irrawang Travelling Scholarship and a Rockefeller Grant for a Postgraduate studentship at Imperial College, London, where he undertook research on the synthesis of new heterocyclic analgesic compounds. He was awarded the PhD degree and the Diploma of Imperial College in 1948. He received a Medical Research Council (Britain) grant and worked (1948–1949) at University College, University of London, on Pyrimidine and Pteridine research.

In April 1949, Des was appointed a Research Fellow in the Department of Medical Chemistry (initially located in London), of the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) of the Australian National University (ANU). He was tenured as a Fellow in October 1949 and became Senior Fellow in July 1956. He was promoted to Reader in August 1961 and was Head of the Medical Chemistry Group from 1974 until his retirement at the end of 1985.

Des was awarded the Doctor of Science degree by the University of London in 1961, the H.G.Smith Memorial Medal in 1964 and the Archibald D. Olle Prize for Chemical Literature in 1997. He had a long association with the Royal Australian Chemical Institute; having been made a Fellow (FRACI) in 1958, was chairman of the Canberra Section in 1963, chairman of the Heterocyclic Chemistry Division (1968–1970) and was made Honorary Life Member in 2008. He was a Member of the Royal Society of NSW (from 1943), a Life Member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (MRSC) (previously The Chemical Society of London, from 1945), and was a Chartered Chemist (C.Chem). He was also a member of the International Society of Heterocyclic Chemistry from 1967, and was associated with the International Society of Pteridinology from its inception.

Des was a renowned organic chemist and carried out research particularly on heterocylic compounds during most of his working life. He authored and co-authored over 200 publications in this field with medicinal chemistry in mind. As the major or sole author, he left a legacy of 12 comprehensive monographs1 on diazabenzenes and polyazanaphthalenes in the Wiley – Interscience Series: The Chemistry of Heterocyclic Compounds. He was principal supervisor of 18 PhD students and mentored many Postdoctoral and Research Fellows from Australia and overseas, and collaborated extensively with scientific colleagues from across the world.

After retiring formally from the JCSMR, he became a Visiting Fellow in the Research School of Chemistry, publishing further work and attending lectures and seminars. He eventually retired in 2010 at the age of 90.

Des met his future wife Jan in 1946 at a University of Sydney bushwalking group function. Jan joined him in London in 1947 where they were married, and where their children Michael, Julia and Paul were born. When the JCSMR building was completed on the ANU campus in 1956, the Department of Medical Chemistry moved from London to the new premises in Canberra. The Brown family returned by sea to Australia in late 1956 and moved into the family home in Canberra in early 1957.

Des and his wife Jan provided a wonderful blend of the best of art and science for their family with whom he shared his love of classical music and opera. He always supported and encouraged Jan in her artistic endeavours and wonderful achievements. Jan (AM) is an artist, sculptor and art lecturer.

Des had a polite, quiet, welcoming, considerate, and helpful nature with an unusually sharp memory and mind which was still evident a day or so before he died. He will be sadly missed by his wife Jan, their children, 19 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. His colleagues, friends and those of the international scientific community who knew him well will miss him too. He will be remembered as one of the world’s eminent scientists, and a kind and thoughtful gentleman.


    ThePyrimidines (with an essay by S.F. Mason), vol. 16, 774 pp, 1962; ThePyrimidines, Supplement I (with a chapter by R.F. Evans and an essay by T.J. Batterham), vol. 16.1, 896 pp, 1970; ThePyrimidines, Supplement II (with a chapter by R.F. Evans and essays by W.B. Cowden and M.D. Fenn), vol. 16.2, 916 pp, 1985; Fused Pyrimidines Part 3, Pteridines, vol. 24, 730 pp, 1988; ThePyrimidines, Second Edition, vol. 52, 1509 pp, 1994; TheQuinazolines, Supplement I, vol. 55, 736 pp, 1996; ThePyridazines, Supplement I, vol. 57, 687 pp, 2000; ThePyrazines, Supplement I, vol. 58, 557 pp, 2002; TheQuinoxalines, Supplement II, vol. 61, 510 pp, 2004; Cinnolines and Phthalazines, Supplement II, vol. 64, 481 pp, 2005; TheNaphthyridines, vol. 63, 423 pp, 2008; Cumulative Index of Heterocyclic Systems (Volumes 1–64: 1950–2008), vol. 65, 399 pp, 2008.

Published Online: 2014-7-23
Published in Print: 2014-7-1

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston