Physicist Michael Brown Named Cottrell Scholar

Michael Brown

Chair of the Department of Physics & Astronomy Michael Brown has joined the distinguished ranks of Cottrell Scholars, who are recognized for innovative research and academic leadership.

The Research Corporation for Scientific Advancement recently opened the honor up to 50 science professors who were chosen for the first time this year from liberal arts colleges.

“I’m thrilled to have been chosen,” says Brown, “and honored to be joining such a distinguished group.”

The Cottrell Scholar program champions the very best early career teacher-scholars in chemistry, physics, and astronomy by providing many professional development opportunities as well as access to exclusive grants.

“The big thing for me is that it’s an invitation to write a Cottrell Scholar proposal in the coming year or so,” says Brown.

For 20 years, Brown has explored astrophysical phenomena in the Swarthmore Spheromak Experiment (SSX) Lab. He has guided over 40 undergrads through all aspects of the scientific research process, from designing and conducting experiments to writing and publishing papers.

Brown has stayed on the cutting edge of plasma physics research with millions of dollars of funding from the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, but he says the research program “has been pretty continuous with the same machine, studying the same physics.” The Cottrell Scholarship may give him an opportunity to branch out.

“In the past few years, we’ve been configuring the SSX device as a plasma wind tunnel and comparing our results to turbulence in solar wind from satellites,” he says. “We could now apply for funding to step into the physical satellite community space to study data retrieved from satellites over Earth.”

Brown joins the Cottrell Scholars Class of 1995, in a callback to a Cottrell College Science Award (CCSA) he received that year that he deems “instrumental” to giving him a good start at Swarthmore. Only three percent of faculty who receive the CCSA go on to become Cottrell Scholars.

“It kind of feels like an honor society,” says Brown. “I’m pleased to represent the Physics & Astronomy Department and glad that Swarthmore receives this recognition as well.”