Chappell Brown, 20-Year EE Times Editor, Dead At 60

The writer and mathematician created a Web site to help researchers improve their scientific analytic techniques. He died Monday after a brief battle with cancer.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

September 14, 2006

4 Min Read

SAN FRANCISCO — Chappell Brown, a nimbled-minded mathmetician whose coverage of advanced technologies from spintronics to buckyballs to nanotechnology educated and enlightened EE Times readers for more than 20 years, died Sunday (Sept. 10) after a brief battle with cancer. He was 60.

Brown set the tone for how advanced technology should be covered as the era of the PC and then nanotechnology emerged. He also created a Web site to help researchers improve their scientific analytical techniques. He was working on an updated version of the site as recently as last week.

David Lammers, EE Times' embedded systems editor, said Brown was always at least one step ahead of the mainstream. "If we were working on MRAM, he was two steps ahead on spintronics," Lammers said. "If we were writing about phase-change memory, he was thinking about molecular memories."

Lammers, who was Times' Tokyo bureau chief in the 1980s, recalled a trip Brown made to Japan in 1986. The duo conducted several interviews at Japanese R&D labs to discuss gallium arsenide technology. A Hitachi researcher listened to a few of Chappell's questions, sat back, smiled and said "You know everything!" about GaAs.

Chappell Johnston Brown was born in Port Townsend, Wash., on June 18, 1946, the son of Ella Blease and Harold Gilson Brown. He graduated from Roosevelt High School in Seattle in 1964, then attended Western State College for one year. After moving with his family to England, where his father was naval attache for the U.S. embassy in London, he attended the University of Sussex where he earned a Masters degree in mathematics. He moved back to Seattle after graduation where he spent time working in the art community, helping to plan the Bumbershoot Music Festival. Later, he embarked on a career as a technical editor.

Mick McLean, who launched Electronics Times in the U.K. in 1979, first met Brown in 1966 when the two were studying for "A levels" at Croydon Technical College. "He was a natural at math and helped me a lot with mine, and I managed to teach him enough physics to pass. So we both got into the then-very-fashionable, Sussex University," McLean said.

Brown slept with the windows wide open in winter and thought nothing of walking six miles to campus if he'd missed the last bus from town, McLean said.

Brown contributed science-fiction articles to the student paper, the Sussex Outlook, which McLean edited. A decade later, McLean gave Chappell "his first real job in technical journalism," initially reporting for ET from London, and then as a stringer from the Silicon Valley. "He was an amazing character, and often came up with the most bizarre [fiction] ideas," McLean added. "He reminded me a bit of [science-fiction author] Philip K. Dick. Even today, I sometimes feel that by helping him getting into technology journalism, I deprived the world of an amazing science fiction novel writer."

Brown is remembered as a gentleman and a gentle man who loved peering into minds of the world's leading scientists, romping in the woods with his dogs, wielding his ax in the forest and using his keen carpentry skills to build structures far bigger than the nanostructures he chronicled.

"Chappell, as a person, met you at the place where you were," said Karen Houle of Hewlett-Packard, who was Brown's friend for 35 years. "He had a curiosity of science, technology and the mystery of life that went well over my head. But I loved to hear about what he was doing. Together in conversations I would add my spin on it, usually metaphysical, and there we'd meet in the middle."

Gail Robinson, his longtime partner and former EE Times editor, said "Chappell knew exactly who Chappell was."

Services are pending. Robinson asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Harris Center for Conservation Education, Trail Upkeep, 83 Kings Highway, Hancock, NH, 03449.

Brown was preceded in death by parents Harold Gilson and Ella Blease Brown. He is survived by his loving partner, Gail Robinson; brothers Frank and Harry Brown and their respective wives Darlene and Beverly; sisters Mary Jane, Catherine and her husband Art; nieces Susan Brown and Margeaux Hall; nephews Gene and Robert Stratton and Peter Brown and his wife Gina; great-nephews Rylan and Grady Stratton and Silas Brown; and great-nieces Isabelle and Hilary Stratton.

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