Alexander Crum Brown, FRS, lived from 26 March 1838 to 28 October 1922. He was an organic chemist who developed a highly influential system for representing molecules. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alexander Crum Brown was born in Edinburgh, the only son of a church minister. He was educated at the Royal High School and in 1854 became a student at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in chemistry 1858. He then studied medicine at Edinburgh and graduated with his MD in 1861. Meanwhile he was also studying for a science degree at the University of London, and earned the university's first ever Doctorate of Science in 1862. He then studied chemistry at the University of Leipzig in Germany under Robert Bunsen. At about this time he married Jane Porter and they subsequently lived together in Edinburgh.
Crum Brown's most original work was in 1864, when he developed a means of drawing diagrams of molecules and compounds. Although it looks obvious today, his system of enclosing the atomic symbols in circles, with molecules comprising atoms linked by lines in a way that satisfied each atom's valence, was ground breaking. The work was published in the The Journal of the Chemical Society of Londonin 1865.
In 1869 Crum Brown was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the University of Edinburgh. He held the post until 1908. In 1864 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1879; was President of the Chemistry Section of the British Association in 1874; and was President of the Chemical Society from 1891 to 1893. Alexander Crum Brown died in Edinburgh in 1922. He had done more than anyone else to establish chemistry as a major subject at the University of Edinburgh and the professorship of chemistry there continues to be named after him.