Beth Anne Brown

Beth Anne Brown (February 4, 1969–October 5, 2008)

Roanoke
Astrophysicist

Beth Anne Brown (February 4, 1969–October 5, 2008), a Roanoke native, turned her love of science and science fiction into a career. Valedictorian of her class at William Fleming High School, she attended Howard University and in 1991 received her undergraduate degree in astrophysics. In 1998, Brown became the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in astronomy from the University of Michigan. As a graduate student there she developed a still-popular course called Naked Eye Astronomy.

Brown joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a National Academy of Science/National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Goddard Space Flight Center before moving to Goddard’s National Space Science Data Center. In 2006 she received a NASA Administrator’s Fellowship and served as a visiting assistant professor at Howard University. Brown published several articles on her research on elliptical galaxies. She shared her passion for astronomy and community by developing education and outreach projects for NASA, including its Multiwavelength Milky Way website. As an executive board member of the American Society of Black Physicists, she encouraged young African Americans to enter the field. Her last position with NASA was assistant director for Science Communications and Higher Education in its Science and Exploration Directorate.

After Brown’s sudden death from a pulmonary embolism at age 39, her mother established the Dr. Beth A. Brown Science Foundation to provide scholarships to graduating high school seniors who pursue degrees in astronomy or physics. In 2012, William Fleming High School named its science and pre-engineering hall in Brown’s honor.

Watch Frances Brown’s speech at the 2015 Strong Men and Women in Virginia History awards ceremony on February 4, 2015. Frances Brown was representing her daughter 2015 SMSW Honoree Dr. Beth A. Brown posthumously