coat of arms




Astronomer Royal for Scotland

Research Interests



Interests and Hobbies

News & Events

Useful links


Professor John C. Brown

10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland



Dumbarton Academy Astronomy Club: 15cm Telescope made by JCB & John Dougal

John age 10   Charcoal drawing
Age 10 (Painting by my Father)   Charcoal drawing by Christine Croucher
1984 D.Sc. Astronomer Royal for Scotland
Astronomer Royal for Scotland


The following is essentially an extract from my input to the lovely book A Beginner’ Guide to the Universe by Andrew Conway and Rosie Coleman from Cambridge UP.

My first dim recollection of getting keen on the stars is when I was about 8 when I read a science fiction story which I think was by Patrick Moore. What I clearly recall is when I was 10 - in 1957. That year, Sputnik was launched, Jodrell Bank opened, my Uncle Joe showed me Comet Arand Roland through binoculars (it was quite like Comet Hale Bopp of 1997), and the start of Patrick Moore's monthly Sky at Night - the longest running TV programme ever. Around 11 or 12 I got in tow with my dad's photographer friend Eddie Cotogno . He was a bit crazy but filled me full of enthusiasm by telling me stories about the sky (not all true!) showing me Saturn through a small but nice telescope on his tiny balcony, and giving me lenses to make telescopes. The first I made was just a spectacle lens and a magnifying glass taped on opposite ends of two cardboard tubes (calendars, toilet rolls etc) which slid in and out to focus. Later, I built more substantial telescopes, helped and supplied with metalwork bits by my engineering dad. As a family we were never rich, at least by any financial measure, but we had unlimited supplies of support for each other and enthusiasm for doing things. So the fact that telescopes were much more expensive then than now did not get in my way and to see the moon's craters through simple telescopes you make yourself is fantastic !

By the time I was 16 or so I had started a school astronomy club and we later built a 15 cm telescope for it from a kit. I also started going by bus and ferry to Paisley Museum and Coats Observatory, attending evening astronomy talks there by Archie Roy and Mike Ovenden. Much of this was made possible by the advice and encouragement of my Dumbarton Academy teachers - Harry ("Cuddy") Mair of Chemistry, Johnny Robertson of History, and especially John McIntyre of Physics. Not only did John get me going to the Paisley lectures and chasing the headmaster for telescope funds, but it was he who suddenly made physics seem really clear, simple, and closely related to the everyday world. Without him I might not have gone into astronomy professionally.

Around the time I became a student at Glasgow University, I also made a couple of complete telescopes (12 and 22 cm) including the mirrors - great fun but taking a lot of time and patience). I studied physics and astronomy (and also maths), physics being the main route these days into astronomy though not the only one. The Astronomer Royal for Scotland before me - Professor Malcolm Longair - studied Electronic Physics first. Despite having a lot of studying to do, I managed to keep making telescopes and having fun looking at the sky as an amateur. I also had summer jobs in astronomy - in Edinburgh and Harvard.

Back then, as now, permanent jobs in astronomy were not that easy to come by and I was fortunate that the then Regius Chair of Astronomy at Glasgow,  Professor Peter Sweet, seemed to think I was talented. He offered me a teaching job while I was doing my PhD research on the theory of the newly discovered hard X-rays from the sun. Since then I have had a series of academic posts in Glasgow University and temporary visiting research jobs in many countries, working on a variety of astronomy subjects, not just the sun. In 1984 I was appointed to the new Glasgow Chair of Astrophysics and was by then very active in promoting astronomy by public and schools lectures. In 1994, a decision was made to appoint a new Astronomer Royal for Scotland, Malcolm Longair having returned to Cambridge. The Queen, in February 1996 honoured me with that appointment. At that time, there were four Astronomers Royal for Scotland still alive - Longair and I, plus Professor Vincent Reddish and Professor Hermann Bruck, the latter in his nineties. (Photo)

As 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland, I was the third Scot to hold that title, and the first for whom the post is not based in Edinburgh University and Royal Observatory. It had been there since 1834 but the whole basis of the Royal Observatories was changing and the appointment changed character - it is now an honorary title, but with the unwritten duty of promoting astronomy, especially in Scotland. Besides my regular teaching, research, and management job as Glasgow (Regius) Professor, I put a lot of my time into doing just that through talks and planetarium shows in schools and across the country, and various unusual routes such as talks involving astronomy and magic and providing astronomy input to an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy. All these activites are great pleasure, especially talking about space to primary school children. It is great to share with them the pleasure I have been getting from the stars ever since I was their age.


My paternal grandfather (John) was a toolmaker and a member of a family of keen cyclists known as “The Bicycling Broons”. His wife of Irish extraction was a very able pianist as was her brother Jim Jackson who emigrated in the California Gold Rush, playing piano for silent movies, working with Buffalo Bill and being at one stage allegedly a Keystone Cop. My maternal (Campbell) grandparents were of pure Scots ancestry.

Jim Jackson with Buffalo Bill
Jim Jackson with Buffalo Bill in the USA

My parents both had track records of prizes in school but both had to leave early for family financial reasons. My dad trained as an engineer and, after periods with a variety of companies North and South of the Scottish border, joined William Beardmore, at that time an engineering and steel giant on the world scene, where he became manager of the heavy machine shops until he retired in his late 50s as the UK Steel industry declined. I still have memories of a visit to  Beardmore’s blast furnaces, the nearest thing to Hell I ever saw – and of playing chess with the later author Tom Stoppard while at tea in the home of his father, my dad’s boss, Ken Stoppard. At home Dad’s main pastime was oil painting in which he was gifted, teaching local evening classes, selling commissioned work, and exhibiting by invitation – and generally making, fixing and decorating anything and everything including bits of my telescopes. He was a quiet man but a good raconteur and joke teller to good friends. Mum was a dedicated housewife and mother but turned her hand to various crafts including sewing and rugmaking. I have one sibling, my older brother James Callen, who recently retired after many years in naval research work following his PhD in mechanical engineering.

In 1965, while we were both Glasgow University students, I met Margaret Isobel Logan, daughter of Dr James C.P. Logan (dermatologist) and Helen M.L. Muggoch (botanist). She, with her two brothers lived in 21 Ashton Road, Hillhead, about 50 metres from the University Astronomy Dept and its undergraduate lectures to Years 2,3 and 4. This proximity to a home with an ever ready supply of coffee and chat was a factor in our subsequent romance and eventual marriage (18/8/72) which brought us Stuart John Logan (30/6/76) and Lorna Margaret (9/05/79). Following her BSc in Zoology and PhD in aphid (greenfly) population dynamics, Margaret’s career took her into secondary school biology teaching and later part-time laboratory demonstrating and most recently into Educational Evaluation. Her part-time working was what enabled us to have such great times with the kids, including extensive travel and quite long periods living abroad, enriched by pursuit of numerous pastimes from rock-hounding to Navajo rugs, and from music and ballet to puppets and the Wizard of Oz.


An Explanation of the Chapel Cushion: Margaret Brown

This is one of 40 stall cushions created for Glasgow University Chapel in 1984 to illustrate subjects studied at GU. All the cushions had the same design for the border. It was designed and sewn by me to represent Astrophysics. It shows the Hubble Space Telescope in free orbit and the Space Shuttle approaching from Earth. The University has had interests in Astronomy since 1760 and had developed major interests in modern astrophysics involving close colaboration with NASA. These developments were recognised by the creation of a new chair of Astrophysics to which John was appointed. I dedicated the cushion to my husband, his fellow astronomers and the continuation of non-military space research.

Astrophysics cushion in GU Chapel

Both Stuart and Lorna become passionate about playing music (percussion and saxophone respectively) at about age 8 greatly encouraged by their maternal grandfather. After his BEng (Hons) in Electronic Engineering with Music (1997), during which he played in many bands, Stuart, aided by a Berklee Scholarship, spent two semesters at Berklee College of Music in Boston studying jazz performance. Today he is a part time percussion teacher and professional musician playing in a range of bands and styles ( ). Lorna made the opposite transition starting with a BA (Hons) in Applied Music (2000), followed by an MSc in IT (2001), and a Research Assistantship in Computer Science. She went on to do a PhD in Human Computer Interaction at the University of Glasgow (graduated 2007), during which time she spent 4 months as an intern at Nokia Research Center, Helsinki. She held the Microsoft-Corpus Christi Research Fellowship in Human Computer Interaction at Microsoft Research Cambridge and Corpus Christi College Cambridge and has since worked for Vodofone and Sony. She now works as in User Research in the Government Digital Service, Cabinet Office. (