Molecular biologist Britton Chance, whose multifaceted research advanced the understanding of biology, instrumentation and medicine, passed away on Nov. 16. He was 97.
|Image courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Archives.
Britton Chance was born in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., in 1913. He spent many summers during his youth sailing, and his love of the sea was the catalyst for his first significant contribution to science and technology. When he was just a teenager, Chance invented an autosteering device that detected deviations in a ship’s course and generated a feedback signal to redirect the ship’s steering mechanisms. Later in life, his love of sailing and intense competitive spirit landed him a spot on the U.S. yacht Olympic team, where he won a gold medal in the 1952 Olympics.
Chance received his bachelor’s degree (1935) and his doctorate in physical chemistry (1941) from the University of Pennsylvania and his doctorate in physiology from Cambridge University (1943).
In 1938, while still a graduate student at the University of Pennsylvania, Chance started constructing a microflow apparatus. He completed the instrument by 1939 and did some initial studies on luciferase-O2 reactions. Several years later, using a new version of his rapid-flow instrument, he elucidated the peroxidase enzyme-substrate reactions, providing the first direct evidence of the correctness of the Michaelis-Menten theory.
During World War II, Chance was recruited to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory to work on radar systems. His first project was developing radar for blimps searching for submarines off the U.S. coast. Later, he worked on radar-guided bombs.
After World War II, Chance went to Stockholm on a two-year Guggenheim Fellowship to work with Hugo Theorell. He and Theorell used another version of the stop-flow apparatus to study the kinetics of NAD in alcohol-aldehyde interconversion and found that product release was rate-determining. This is now called the Theorell-Chance mechanism.