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Robert Brown


1773 - 1858

Botanist, who gave the name 'nucleus' to the structure which controls cells. Born in Montrose, the son of a clergyman, Brown studied medicine at the Universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh.

On visiting London (1798), he came to the attention of Sir Joseph Banks. On Banks' recommendation Brown became naturalist to the survey of Australia (1801-5) led by Matthew Flinders and brought back a collection of nearly 4000 new plant species. He was the first to recognise the difference between the coniferous plants (gymnosperms) and the flowering plants (angiosperms). Banks again took an interest in Brown's career, making him librarian and curator of his extensive natural history collection. On Bank's death, Brown transferred this collection to the British Museum, becoming its first Keeper of Botany. Brown made his most significant contribution in the classification of plants.

He observed what became known as Brownian Motion of fine particles in a liquid (1827) while examining pollen grains in water. In addition, while studying Orchids, he first described the nucleus in plants cells and realised that this structure was fundamental to their reproduction (1831).

He died in London.


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