Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences

Brown Endowed Chair

Thomas R. Brown Jr. started manufacturing early in life. He loved to build things as a child, and, as an adult, he enjoyed spending time in his workshop where he experimented with electronics and woodwork. He sought elegant solutions, and to him that meant functional, economical, and attractive.

Tom entered MIT after graduating high school but left after one year to join the Navy, where he got his exposure to electronics. After the war he returned to MIT, finished his General Engineering degree, and married Helen Mason, who had just graduated from Wellesley College in English Literature. Tom’s next step was an MBA from Harvard.

Degrees in hand, the couple headed west to look for opportunity. They settled in Tucson, where the desert and the culture seemed a good place to build a future.

The Browns founded Burr-Brown with Tom’s friend, Page Burr, in 1956 after realizing the tremendous potential of the transistor to replace vacuum tubes in electronic devices. The technology had yet to be incorporated into commercially available products.  “When the transistor came along, it represented a windfall change, a watershed change,” Tom said. “It was the reliability of the transistor that enabled all the new things over the last 50 years which we now take for granted – computers, auto pilot, CT scan, smartphones.”

The couple bought Burr’s interest early on and continued to grow the company. Sadly, Helen passed away in 1967, but Tom persevered. Burr-Brown grew through earnings until 1983, when it went public to finance a wafer fab facility. When Texas Instruments bought the business in 2000, it had grown to be a global leader in top-quality, high-precision electronics and its acquisition was the largest corporate sale in Arizona history.

The Burr-Brown corporate mission was “To provide something of value to mankind.”  Over its 44-year history it did just that. Tom spectacularly succeeded in using the power of science and engineering to advance humanity.

Tom was an active civic leader and volunteered in the broader community. He served on numerous boards and commissions, and devoted herculean effort toward transportation planning. Burr-Brown greatly impacted the economy, offered a diverse workforce high wage, high skilled and interesting jobs in a fast growing and dynamic industry, and helped keep talent in Southern Arizona.

Tom’s mission endures through the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, established in 1998. Many UA programs and students have benefitted from their support. Their support for UA faculty has included an endowed prize for teaching excellence and endowed chairs in the Colleges of Science, Engineering, and Business.

The Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chair in Optical Sciences furthers the Foundation’s commitment to build future opportunity, productivity and innovation in Arizona and around the world.