William Brown, biological sciences, dies at 62

William Brown, a member of Carnegie Mellon’s department of biological sciences for 34 years and an innovator who was involved with some of the university’s most well-known interdisciplinary initiatives, died Sunday, July 15, at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland. He was 62.

The cause of death was complications from brain surgery following an accident, according to an e-mail message sent by Richard McCullough, dean of the Mellon College of Science, to members of the campus community.

Brown came to Carnegie Mellon in 1973 as an assistant professor of biological sciences. For the next several decades, he divided his time between teaching undergraduate courses like Modern Biology, mentoring graduate students in his lab, and playing key roles in the development of interdisciplinary initiatives like the Bachelor of Humanities and Arts program, Science and Humanities Scholars program, and the Master of Biotechnology and Management program.

Brown served as acting head of the biological sciences department from 1993 to 1995 and department head from 1995 to 2000. In 2004, he was awarded Carnegie Mellon’s Robert Doh-erty Award, which recognizes faculty members who contribute significantly to the development of educational programs.

“[Brown] had an energy you couldn’t even imagine,” said Amy Burkert, associate department head for undergraduate affairs in the department of biological sciences. “He didn’t ever see that there wasn’t a challenge he couldn’t take on.”

Brown also extended a hand further beyond the classroom, taking a part in the department’s murder mystery dinner, a fixture since 1997, and playing Santa at the annual Christmas party.

“He was involved in whatever we were doing,” said Jared Wenger, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in biological sciences and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in genetics at Stanford University.

Wenger recalled how Brown lent students his own backyard so they could build the BioSAC booth for Carnival, a tradition begun in 2005. He also routinely took students up to his family’s cabin in Irwin, Pa.

Former graduate student Christine Wang was one of Brown’s advisees on a thesis project that involved using microorganisms in river sediment to clean up contaminants in the water.

“I think he’s the best thesis adviser and mentor any student could ask for,” Wang said. “He was always very supportive and allowed students the freedom and luxury to explore.”

Brown spent the spring 2007 semester as a visiting professor on the Qatar campus, teaching a hybrid biology course he developed to integrate online multimedia into the traditional classroom lecture setting.

Prior to his accident, Brown had planned to return to Qatar for three years as special assistant to Chuck Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar.

“Bill does live on because he’s touched so many people that there are no limits to the impact that he’s going to have,” Burkert said. “He’s taught us a lot of very important lessons, not just about science, but about education and about dealing with people and being a leader and a doer.”

Brown is survived by his wife, Linda, and sons Kevin and Eric. Eric is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center.

A private funeral was held in Brown’s honor on July 20 at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill. A campus memorial service will take place in the fall.