Theoretical physicist Gerald E. Brown already was a renowned scientist at Princeton University when the legendary C.N. Yang, a Nobel Prize winner working to build the physics department at Stony Brook University, lured him to Long Island in 1968.

"He was one of the leading people in the world studying atoms," George Sterman, director of Stony Brook's C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics, said of Brown. He said Yang "convinced Gerry to leave Princeton for this new place, Stony Brook, which was famous because Yang was there."

Brown remained at Stony Brook until he retired, in 2009, as distinguished professor emeritus. Over the course of his decades there, he made notable scientific strides and mentored young scientists, supervising more than 70 doctoral candidates, his colleagues said this week.

Brown, who lived in East Setauket, died May 31 at Stony Brook University Hospital from complications of pneumonia. He was 86.

Gerald Edward Brown was born in Brookings, S.D., the son of a professor of mathematics at South Dakota State College and a nephew of farmers, a university biography said.

After high school in 1943, Brown enlisted in the U.S. Navy. World War II ended while he still was in an officers training program that included study at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a bachelor's degree in physics in 1946 on the GI Bill. He received his master's and doctoral degrees from Yale University, in 1948 and 1950, respectively, and in 1957, a doctor of science degree from the University of Birmingham in England.

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In 1960, Brown joined the Nordic Institute for Theoretical Atomic Physics in Copenhagen. He became a professor of physics at Princeton in 1964, and four years later came to Stony Brook.

"Gerry Brown coming here was maybe the biggest thing in raising Stony Brook's profile" beyond Yang himself, Sterman said.

His son, C. Titus Brown, a professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, said Thursday that his father was "one of the people that helped bring Stony Brook to prominence in physics, and he was very proud of that."

Barbara Jacak, distinguished professor of physics at Stony Brook, said the 6-foot, 4-inch Brown was "larger than life, both in physics and in person. As a scientist, he was extremely creative. That allowed him to make major contributions in various different areas in physics."

Sterman said of Brown's research into atoms: "Some of the predictions he made back in the late 1940s and '50s -- it's only now that people can do the experiments that have confirmed his theories."

Brown was the author or co-author of nearly 400 research articles and was the founder and longtime editor of the highly regarded journals "Physics Letters" and "Physics Reports."

He was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1978 and was a member of the national scientific academies of Denmark, Finland and Norway. His many awards include the Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society (1982), the Max-Plank Medal of the German Physical Society (1996), and the Hans A. Bethe Prize of the American Physical Society (2001).

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; children and stepchildren, Hans Brown of Paris, Nicky Brown of Copenhagen, Annegret Brown of Port Washington, Claudia Bucher of Hollywood, Calif., and Bernard Bucher of Setauket; and seven grandchildren. He also is survived by his ex-wife, Traudl Brown of Copenhagen.

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A funeral was held on Wednesday. The family will hold an open house at the Brown home Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. Information about the event and how to make contributions to the Gerry Brown Endowed Fund for Excellence in Physics & Astronomy may be found at