CWRU Physics Faculty

Robert W. Brown
Institute Professor and Distinguished University Professor
S.B., University of Minnesota (1963)
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1968)
Industrial Physics, Imaging Physics, Science Education, and Astroparticle Physics

The MRI Green Book
Picture of Robert W. Brown
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I have collaborated on industrial physics with at least a dozen high-tech companies for upwards of 30 years and worked earlier than that on astroparticle and education physics. I've played a prideful role in the emergence of five new manufacturing (!) companies, and I've mentored more than 100 postdocs, doctorates, master's students and undergraduates. My research group efforts have resulted in over 200 published papers and abstracts, my former students hold at least 150 patents (eight co-authored by me) and we have worked in radiation physics, MRI, PET, CT, electromagnetics, inverse methods, mechanical and thermal modeling, nonlinear dynamics, EEG, MEG, sensors, and physics education, as well as a professional-life-long involvement in elementary particle physics and cosmology.

Other Milestones

The truly fulfilling nature of a physics career in teaching and research certainly stems not only from its depth and variety, but also from the close collaboration of students. In my case, a beginning devotion to basic astroparticle physics extended to industrial (especially MRI) research, and an added focus on physics education research, all involved even very young students. Spin-offs from the teaching include the writing of a 944-page MRI textbook (it's been called the big green book and the daily companion of the MRI scientist), the creation of GRE flashcards (more than 2000 students from all over the globe have hard copies and, now, a web app, and a book 'What your fifth- grader needs to know about college physics!' in preparation. In a pioneering entrepreneurial physics master's program, I have co-advised most of its 40 graduates to date.


Our principal applied areas are simulations in imaging (dominated by MRI but with increased attention paid to PET, CT, and radiotherapy) and of electrical sensors. Finite element, FDTD, and Monte Carlo codes are important computational tools, along with analytical methods such as functional analysis with constraints. We engage in mathematical modeling of instruments and other electromagnetic systems and we optimize on those models in terms of their parameters, leading to such results as a "supershielding criterion" for optimizing magnetic and electric field confinement. My present and former students and I have initiated/designed three decades of MRI complete system (main, gradient, rf) commercial magnetic coil products, working with both large OEMs and those start-ups I mentioned above. (One of those start-ups began in my computational lab, Quality Electrodynamics, which now - Spring 2015 - has more than 120 employees, at least a dozen of whom trained in our physics department. The CEO/president obtained his Ph.D. under my guidance, and thanks to his efforts, QED was ranked 11th among America's twenty best young companies by Forbes Magazine in 2009 and has won many other awards.

An early basic research activity has been theoretical calculations in support of new high-energy experiments, especially novel tests of the electroweak parameters through the production of pairs of weak bosons. (We discovered "radiation symmetry" in this way.) A series of experiments were performed in the subsequent years, and the latest round of boson-pair experiments reported in the last couple of years confirmed the original "radiation zero" and yielded refined constraints on trilinear couplings for the bosons. There is a new generation of radiation-zero experiments planned and carried out at the LHC in Switzerland. Other basic research has dwelt upon cosmology (e.g., solutions to cosmic string equations) and fluid nonlinear analysis (e.g., stability of solitary waves under large perturbations).

In the area of physics education research we have identified a "post-exam syndrome" and worked on the problem of a "teflon education." In the first, we consider the dilemma of students with unresolved difficulties associated with their exam performance and, in the second, we address ways to improve learning retention by novel repetition methods ("cycling"). At the present time, we have had at least twelve different lecturers employ cycling for more than two-dozen introductory classes.

In summary, I point to the many marvelous undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate collaborators who have led much of the above efforts. At this time, our industrial design work and its 30-year history have led to the official designation of our research group as OPTIMISE (Ohio Platform for Tomorrow's Industrial Medical Imaging Systems and Equipment - serving an increasing number of companies in the commercialization of their products. Our teaching design work is now moving to create hybrid online teaching modules in collaboration with neighboring Ohio universities. Stay tuned!