Skip to content
For WHOI personnel and vendors: COVID-19 Guidelines

Neil Brown

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow
the death December 27, 2005 of Oceanographer Emeritus Neil L. Brown at
the Royal Megansett Nursing & Retirement Home in North Falmouth, MA
after a brief illness. He was 78.

Neil Lewis Brown was born July 19, 1927 in Moss Vale, New South Wales,
Australia and received a diploma from Wallongang high school in 1943. He studied
radio engineering at Sydney Technical College and pursued his interest
in electrical engineering. While in college he worked for the
Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO)
as a laboratory technician from 1944 to 1952 and as a technical
officer/engineer from 1952 to 1956, making measurements in the Division
of Electrotechnology at the National Standards Laboratory of CSIRO. He
received a B. E. degree in electrical engineering in 1951 from the
University of New South Wales, and continued
to work for CSIRO, moving to the Division of Fisheries of the National
Standards Laboratory in 1956 as a technical officer working with
electronic instrumentation in oceanography. During his three years
there, from 1956 to 1959, he developed a precision salinometer,
the first of many
oceanographic instruments he would develop during his lifetime.

Neil Brown’s first affiliation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution came in 1960, when he joined the staff as a research
associate.  When his appointment as a visiting investigator at
WHOI ended in 1961, he took a position as manager of research and
development in the marine division at Bissett-Berman Corp. in San
Diego, CA, where he developed the first widely used salinity measuring
device, the STD (salinity/temperature/depth), later called a CTD

He returned to WHOI in 1969 as a research specialist in the Ocean
Engineering Department working with Doug Webb and was promoted to
Senior Research Specialist in 1973. During this time he developed the
Mk III CTD system, which became the mainstay of physical oceanography,
and Neil Brown quickly became a leading authority on the measurement of
salinity in seawater.

With the success of the CTD system, Neil Brown left the Institution in
1974 to found and serve as president of Neil Brown Instrument Systems
in Falmouth and later Cataumet, MA.  He continued to advance salinity measurements,
developing the Mk V CTD system during the 1970s. In 1984 the firm was
acquired by EG&G, and Neil Brown remained with the firm as a senior
scientist until 1989, when he returned to WHOI as a senior research
specialist in the Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department. In
1991 he was promoted to principal engineer. He retired from WHOI in 1995 and was
named an Oceanographer Emeritus in 1999.

Neil was the author of more than 30 technical papers and held 26
patents in ocean instrumentation. Considered by many as one of the best
oceanographic instrumentation engineers in the world, Neil Brown was
recognized by colleagues for his talents and skills in designing and
building instruments needed for the precision measurement of
temperature, conductivity, pressure and velocity in the ocean. As one
WHOI colleague noted, Neil Brown “had an ability to define his
objectives clearly and comprehensively, he worked well with others, and
was creative with a strong appreciation of the activities and problems
of conducting research on physical oceanography. His technical
competence was amazing,” another noted, “and he had few equals.”

Longtime colleague Sandy Williams calls Neil Brown’s invention of the
first digital profiling instrument for measuring temperature and
salinity as a function of depth “a revolutionary development.  He
called it the Micro Profiler because it could resolve temperature and
salinity structure to a resolution of 15 cm in depth.”  For this
and other contributions to the field Neil Brown was awarded the
Distinguished Technical Achievement Award by the Oceanic Engineering
Society of IEEE in 1980. “There was a period about 14 years ago when I
was pretty sure that Neil was responsible for more actual measurements
in the ocean
from his CTD than all the experimenters up to that time,” Sandy Williams recalled.

At WHOI, Neil worked with Doug Webb, Sandy Williams, Nick Fofonoff, Bob Millard, and
many others in ocean instrumentation in the Applied Ocean Physics and
Engineering Department and more recently Ray Schmitt in the Physical
Oceanography Department.  There his persistent push for better
ocean instruments continued; he obtained his most recent patent just
last year.  Colleagues remember his kindly ways, skill in
motivating and educating colleagues, and good humor.  This was
exemplified by his love of pranks and practical jokes, among them
exploits with firecrackers.  He was also an avid sailor, racing
his boat “Escape” in Buzzards Bay for many years.

Survivors include two daughters, Ruth Brown of Winthrop, MA and Linden
Brown Dick of Worcester, MA; two grandchildren, Alexandra Dick and
Joshua Dick of Worcester; a brother, David Brown of Tamworth, New South
Wales, Australia; and six nieces and nephews.

A celebration of life will be held Sunday, January 8, 2006 at 4 p.m. at
Fisher House of Church of the Messiah on Church Street in Woods
Hole.  Donations in his memory may be made to the National Marine
Life Center, 120 Main Street, Buzzards Bay, MA 02532.

Neil Brown