Brambell, Francis William Rogers (1901–70), zoologist, was born 25 February 1901 at Combridge House, Sandycove, Dublin, the eldest of the three sons of Louis Alfred Brambell, an accountant at the Guinness brewery, and his wife, Amelia Jane Mary, née Rogers. One of the three brothers died in infancy. Even as a young child, Brambell was fascinated by natural history; a friendship with R. M. Barrington (qv), begun when Brambell was eleven, led to varied and valuable experience of fieldwork and collecting. He attended Aravon School (1911–14), where no science was taught but, after being coached privately, he entered TCD with an entrance prize in natural science. Awarded the foundation scholarship in 1920, he graduated BA (with the senior moderatorship and the gold medal in natural sciences) in 1922, and B.Sc. (later converted to M.Sc.) in 1923. He obtained a Ph.D. in 1924, the first awarded by TCD, for research in cytology, particularly on the golgi apparatus of the cell.
Brambell was awarded the science research scholarship of the Royal Commission for the 1851 Exhibition, and from 1924 he worked in University College, London. For the next three years he collaborated chiefly with Alan Parkes on the effects of x-irradiation on animal reproductive organs, and also worked on the embryology of the reproductive system of the mouse. In 1926 he was awarded a fellowship of the international education board, and in 1927 a D.Sc. by the University of London. He was appointed lecturer in zoology at King's College, London, in that year, and on 27 December 1927 he married Margaret Lilian, daughter of William Adgie, an accountant in Leeds. They had a son and a daughter.
In 1930 Brambell took up the Lloyds Roberts chair of zoology at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, and revitalised research and teaching in the department. He was responsible for the establishment of the marine sciences laboratory at Menai Bridge and the unit of embryology of the Agricultural Research Council at Bangor; he was director of the latter from 1952 to 1968, the year of his retirement from the university, though he continued to work in research. He helped design a new zoology building, now named after him; an anonymous critic claimed that the professor's dislike of being intercepted on corridors led to his insistence that the building, like an animal burrow, should have bolt-holes to permit escape from bores (or possibly students), when necessary. He was dean of the faculty of science from 1939 to 1943, and vice-principal in 1948–50 and 1956–8. He was elected FRS in 1949 and served on the Royal Society's council from 1954 to 1956.
Brambell's principal research interest was in mammalian reproduction; among other subjects, he studied the oestrus cycle of various mammals, yolk formation, sex determination and intersexuality, and intra-uterine mortality. He was awarded the royal medal in 1964 in recognition of his greatest achievement, the discovery of the method of transfer of passive immunity from the mother to her young, based on his observation that proteins could pass across the placenta. Subsequently he proved that maternal antibodies could also be transferred in this way. He thus overturned previously accepted hypotheses and allowed the development of a new theory of immunisation, as well as permitting other important aspects of immunology to be better understood. His last publication, The transmission of passive immunity from mother to young (1970), was regarded as a valuable summary.
He was a long-serving member of the board of the Journal of Embryology and Experimental Morphology, and was also a member of the university grants commission from 1960 to 1968. He was created CBE in 1966, the year after a particularly important report was produced by a government committee that he had chaired. The Brambell committee was set up to examine the conditions under which farm animals were kept, at a time when what was known as ‘factory farming’ was changing the nature of food production in the United Kingdom and worldwide. The report's significance was long-lasting: fifty years after the report appeared, Brambell's name was still frequently cited in the extensive literature on animal welfare. He insisted that the committee should establish internationally recognised parameters within which animal welfare could be safeguarded, and that practical recommendations based on the findings of science were essential. Brambell died at Bangor 6 June 1970. His portrait by Fiona Campbell Blair hangs in the Brambell Laboratory at Bangor.