November 21, 2008
In memoriam: Gordon L. Brownell, PhD

gordon brownellGordon L. Brownell, PhD, an honorary physicist with the MGH Department of Radiology, died Nov. 11 following a long illness. He was 86 years old.

A pioneer in his field, Brownell was renowned for his role in developing positron imaging and positron emission tomography (PET). In 1950 – the same year he joined the MGH as an assistant physicist – he and the late William H. Sweet, MD, DSc, former chief of the MGH Neurosurgery Service, developed the first positron imaging device for medical use. This work helped lead to the creation of the modern PET scanner, a noninvasive device for examining cellular function that aids the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of diseases.

Brownell received his undergraduate degree in Physics from Bucknell University in 1943 and his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1950. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Navy Research Group to develop acoustic devices to detect deep sea mines. Brownell was a professor emeritus in the Department of Nuclear Engineering at MIT and also held academic appointments at Harvard Medical School. Among his many honors, he was a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, an honorary fellow of the American College of Nuclear Medicine and a director and fellow of the American Nuclear Society.

Brownell is survived by his wife Anna-Liisa, PhD, of the MGH Department of Radiology; his six children; and seven grandchildren. Funeral services were held Nov. 15. Gifts in his memory can be sent to the Gordon L. Brownell Scholarship Fund for the Advancement of Physics, c/o Salem Five Bank, Acct. #773048947, 210 Essex St., Salem, MA 01970.

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