Brandon Brown, Professor of Physics
A knack for talking science with non-scientists helps Brandon Brown stand out on campus and around the country.
From subatomic particle physics and electromagnetic biophysics to the physical design of lab space to enhance scientific collaboration, USF physics Professor Brandon Brown sees the human side of science in ways most of us can only imagine. Maybe that’s why his courses are a favorite with students.
The award-winning author and Shark Week television series expert has a reputation for his ability to communicate complex ideas in easy-to-understand terms.
“I am not a ‘typical’ lab scientist, in that I love communicating with non-scientists about science,” Brandon says.
My teaching style is to do whatever I can to have those light bulb moments for as many students as possible.”
His recent book is proof of that. Planck: Driven by Vision, Broken by War, about groundbreaking but little-known 20th century physicist Max Planck, has been hailed by mainstream critics and science experts alike, including The Times of London; the syndicated public radio show Science for the People; and the Association of American Publishers, the national trade association for the U.S. book and journal publishing industries.
Father of quantum physics
“Beyond Planck’s own deep impact on the world of science, two of the 20th century’s most influential characters, Albert Einstein and Adolf Hitler, feature prominently in his life. There's so much we can learn from Planck’s story, in terms of history, science, and moral choices,” says Brandon, of the book.
Planck was a founding father of quantum physics and worked for the Nazi government early in his career. As the true nature of the regime revealed itself he resisted by protecting many of the Jewish scientists he knew and was ultimately pushed out of the field. His son, Erwin, was a conspirator in Operation Valkyrie — the failed plot by internal forces to kill Hitler near the end of World War II.
The book is a good example of what makes USF so great, Brandon says. “Here, faculty and students are encouraged to follow their passions and explore new fields,” he says. “Curiosity is a virtue.”
Brandon explored ways to make superconductors more resilient (a field that could one day revolutionize energy consumption and distribution) and in recent years measured the bioelectrical signals that sharks use to navigate the oceans and zero in on their prey, which landed him on the popular Discovery Channel show Shark Week. He even helped develop and design the labs in USF’s Fr. John Lo Schiavo, S.J. Science Center to encourage scientific cross-pollination between disciplines.
“At some schools, I would have been forced to be ‘superconductivity’ guy forever,” Brandon says. “But here, I turned into a biophysicist and an author — for the greater good of my output, my students’ educations, and probably the field of physics in general. I love that USF offers that kind of flexibility.”
The same creativity drives Brandon’s teaching. He feeds off the variety of courses he’s able to teach, saying they “give him energy, keep his brain fresh, and help him learn and evolve as a professor.” His students have gone on to graduate studies at Harvard University, Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and to find jobs in tech start-ups.
“My teaching style is to do whatever I can to have those light bulb moments for as many students as possible,” says Brandon, who believes nimbleness is a cornerstone of good teaching.
“I try to paint the discoveries with a human brush, hopefully helping students not just connect but to see themselves as possible pioneers,” Brandon says.