Beth A. Brown

Beth A. Brown
Beth A. Brown
Credit: Jay S. Friedlander

Occupation: Astrophysicist

Year born: 1969

Research Areas: Black Holes, Elliptical Galaxies, X-ray Emission, Data Archives


"Space fascinated me. I was into anything that had to do with space."

Source: APS


Early Life

Beth was born in Roanoke, Virginia, USA. She was always asking questions as a child and wanted to know how things worked. She had a passion for science fiction. During a school trip to an observatory she looked through a telescope for the first time and saw the Ring Nebula. That was the inspiration she needed to decide to study astronomy. She was the highest achieving student in her high school. Beth then went to Howard University to study astrophysics. She then went on to study for a PhD in astronomy at the University of Michigan. Beth was the first African American woman to gain a PhD from the university. She specialized in looking at X-ray emission from elliptical galaxies.

Career Highlights

In Michigan, she created a popular course for students on Naked Eye Astronomy, for people with no astronomy experience. After getting her PhD she went to work for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Beth made sure that data coming back from telescopes was archived and available to the public. She wanted to encourage young people into astronomy and took part in a lot of outreach activities. She appeared on US television explaining recent findings from NASA and was an excellent communicator. Beth was active in the US National Society of Black Astronomers where she was a popular mentor.


Beth passed away unexpectedly at the age of 39, when her career was still growing. The American Astronomical Society named an award for student presentations in her honour. Beth said that her greatest achievement was “convincing a young woman not to give up on her dreams of becoming a scientist, because someone had told her she couldn’t [do it]".

Other Interests

Beth loved to sing and read. She played the piccolo in several bands during her time at university. Beth loved Star Wars and Star Trek, which helped to inspire her to study astronomy.